An advertising feature for Sunflow German electric heaters outlined its history based on an 18th century German wood burning stove called a Kachelofen. The advertising feature went on to state that "Our modern electric version [has] ... a low electricity input requirement, achieved by embedding pure tungsten elements into a natural refractory chamotte clay core. In 1991, the year of our last design change, a new slimmer radiator (just 80mm deep) was introduced with scientifically optimised hollow flues to provide even more effective heating. A lifetime of heating, amazingly efficient, fully controllable, slim and attractive. A cold winter causes considerable heating problems as well a [sic] huge bills. Those of us enjoying warm comfy homes have to sympathise with people suffering the cold through burst pipes, faulty boilers, lack of oil or fuel poverty ... In Germany, there is a big move towards 'individual time switched' modular heating. That is fully heating rooms just before and during use and either turning the heating down or off when not used ... Some electric heating, such as fan heaters can be very expensive to run but these German heaters are much more efficient and compare very favourably with oil and gas and eliminate burst pipes, servicing, boiler replacement, oil delivery problems. Electric, a sensible heating solution...".
Three complainants challenged whether the claim "some electric heating, such as fan heaters can be very expensive to run but these German heaters are much more efficient" was misleading and could be substantiated.
Sunflow said that because fan heaters needed additional electricity to power the fan as well as the heating element, extra costs would be involved. They pointed out that their heaters did not contain an electric fan. They also stated that as they were not a testing company they would not propose to undertake testing of fan heaters. Sunflow provided data in the form of tables which they said were used by hundreds of companies in the UK because of their accuracy and reliability. The tables contained specific regional and electricity supplier data for the annual costs of space and water heating for two-, three- and four-bed houses which the advertiser said related to fan heaters and night storage heaters. Sunflow told us that products were materially different from night storage heaters but shared the same principles, except that they did not need to be wired to Economy 7 circuits and heating costs could be worked out by multiplying the unit costs and the amount of electricity consumed per hour, factoring in heat loss.
Sunflow supplied documents which assessed various aspects of different heating types such as general usage, costs and energy consumption. The advertiser also submitted a document which stated "Electric room heaters ... fan heaters and oil-filled radiators. They are all expensive to run and not appropriate as a main heat source. They are all considered to be 100% efficient (i.e. they turn all the electrical energy they use into heat), but some cost more to run than others".
With specific reference to their product, they said a one kilowatt, one bar fire would use one kilowatt of electricity as it would not have a thermostat, and as Sunflow heaters were thermostatically controlled it may only use 20-minutes worth of electricity.
The tables supplied by Sunflow referred to electric radiators, not fan heaters and did not provide a direct comparison between storage heaters, including Sunflow's own type of storage heater, with fan heaters. It was not possible, therefore, to ascertain comparative energy efficiency for Sunflow's products. The tables also referred to the "Annual cost of space & water heating for average size houses" which did not make it possible to separate out space from water heating costs or take into account smaller or larger homes. Although the tables provided data for various UK regions, electricity suppliers varied between each area, which would not allow direct comparisons to be made.
The ASA considered that consumers would understand that some heaters might operate at different energy consumption levels than others, and efficiency could be calculated using a number of factors. However, no reference to this information was provided in the ad, and Energy Efficiency Rating labelling information was not supplied. We considered that a theoretical comparison was insufficient to substantiate the claim made.
Because we had not seen evidence directly comparing Sunflow's product with fan heaters, we concluded that the ad was misleading.
On this point the ad breached CAP Code (Edition 12) rules 3.1 3.1 Marketing communications must not materially mislead or be likely to do so. (Misleading advertising), 3.7 3.7 Before distributing or submitting a marketing communication for publication, marketers must hold documentary evidence to prove claims that consumers are likely to regard as objective and that are capable of objective substantiation. The ASA may regard claims as misleading in the absence of adequate substantiation. (Substantiation), 3.11 3.11 Marketing communications must not mislead consumers by exaggerating the capability or performance of a product. (Exaggeration) and 3.38 3.38 Marketing communications that include a comparison with an unidentifiable competitor must not mislead, or be likely to mislead, the consumer. The elements of the comparison must not be selected to give the marketer an unrepresentative advantage. (Other comparisons).
The ad must not appear again in its current form. We told Sunflow not to make comparisons with other forms of heating unless adequate substantiation is held.