A TV and video on demand (VOD) ad for Studio Retail Ltd, a catalogue and online shopping retailer:
a. The TV ad, seen on 27 October 2020, included scenes of a family at Christmas. The voice-over included, “The Clarks got everything you see for a great price at Studio.co.uk. The PJs, turkey suit, tablet, train table, tree, decorations … the lights, reindeer, dinosaur, yes! Find your wow and go all out this Christmas at Studio.co.uk. Nice! And you can spread the cost. Representative 49.9% APR variable.” The ad included pictures of the goods described in the voice-over and prices. Text at the bottom of the screen included “Representative 49.9% APR variable. Credit subject to status. Over 18s only. Account required. Delivery from £4.99. T&C’s apply”.
b. The VOD ad, seen on All4 on 19 October 2020 included the same content as ad (a).
IssueThree viewers, who believed that the ads encouraged the use of credit to finance excessive spending on Christmas goods at a time when many people were struggling financially, challenged whether they were irresponsible.
Studio Retail Ltd said that the ad did not encourage the use of credit to finance excessive spending. They said that the purpose of the ad was to highlight the range and value of the Christmas products and goods that they sold. They said that the ad did not feature, or encourage the use of Studio Retail’s credit account, or feature high cost items, or excessive spending.
Studio Retail said that, of the 30-second ad, 26 seconds featured the retail products and only the final part of the ad included the reference to “spread the cost” and included the APR. Studio Retail said that the fictional family in the ad were not portrayed as having financial difficulties, or hardship. They said the ad did not imply that the family had used credit to relieve financial difficulty. They said that the ad did not attempt to draw empathy from the audience by presenting a normalised family situation which was improved by using credit. They said nothing within the ad trivialised the use of credit, or suggested that credit was a quick or easy option for consumers in financial difficulties.
In reference to the phrase “go all out this Christmas”, Studio Retail noted that the phrase “go all out” should be defined as putting energy or enthusiasm into something, as opposed to a phrase like “go all in” which had connotations of gambling or risk-taking. They did not agree that “go all out” referred to spending. They said that the phrase represented an encouragement to consumers to shop with Studio Retail and was not linked to the use of credit. They said that the ads were structured to present a gap between the section where the Christmas purchases were displayed, and the section that included the phrase “go all out this Christmas” and the reference to spreading the cost.
Clearcast responded in relation to ad (a) that they did not agree that the ad encouraged irresponsible use of credit. They said that the focus of the ad was on the range of products and the reference to spreading the cost simply highlighted a service that the advertiser offered. They said that there was no suggestion that the family in the ad had used credit to shop irresponsibly, or even at all. They said that the main body of the ad quoted the full prices of the products rather than instalment prices. They also said that the ad did not suggest that consumers should unnecessarily purchase goods, or that purchasing through using credit was appropriate. They pointed to the fact the ad stated that provision of credit was not automatic and would only be provided to those for whom it was affordable.
Channel 4 responded in relation to ad (b) that the main body of the ad was devoted to products available from the retailer and gave the full price of those products. They said the ad did not portray the use of credit as necessary or automatic. They said that they did not consider that there was anything in the imagery or claims to suggest that credit should be spent on unnecessary items and that the ad merely alerted viewers to the retailer and the products and services that were available. They said that it did not promote the use of credit as a long term supplement to low income and sufficient information was provided to viewers to allow them to make an informed decision on whether to make use of credit.
The ASA acknowledged that Studio Retail was advertising a range of goods that it stocked as a retailer and that none of the goods advertised required the use of credit to purchase. We understood that in order to purchase goods, consumers signed up to the Studio Retail website. On the website they would have the option of buying items outright, or using an option involving credit, for example spreading the cost of the purchase.
We understood that those consumers who wished to make use of credit products would need to pass affordability checks and we acknowledged that the ad did not portray the family in any financial difficulties. However, we considered that the family in the ads were depicted surrounded by non-essential goods that had been purchased alongside a prominent reference to “And now you can spread the cost”, emphasised that all of those goods could be purchased using credit.
We considered the amount of Christmas related goods, alongside the suggestion that the family got “everything you see” and that viewers could “find your wow and go all out” this Christmas suggested that viewers should not settle for a smaller numbers of goods and should instead purchase more, for which credit was available. We considered that in particular the phrase, “go all out” suggested that viewers should not settle for smaller purchases, and linked the occasion to spending. Because of that, we considered that the ads encouraged the use of credit to finance excessive spending on Christmas goods and we therefore concluded they were irresponsible and breached the Code.
Ad (a) breached BCAP Code 1.2 1.2 Advertisements must be prepared with a sense of responsibility to the audience and to society. (Social responsibility). Ad (b) breached CAP Code (Edition 12) rule 1.3 1.3 Advertisements must comply with the law and broadcasters must make that a condition of acceptance. (Social responsibility).
The ad must not appear again in the form complained about. We told Studio Retail Ltd to ensure that future ads did not irresponsibly encourage excessive spending.