Two issues were investigated, one of which was Upheld. The other was informally resolved after the advertiser agreed to amend or withdraw their advertising.
A national press ad for The Writers Bureau, a writing course provider, seen in the Evening Standard on 17 October 2017, featured the text “Proofreaders [sic] Earn £22+ Per Hour Working From Home! As a freelance proofreader [sic] and copy editor you can earn a good income making sure that copy is professional and error free ...”.
The complainant challenged whether the ad misleadingly omitted information about the cost of the course.
The Writers Bureau said that information about the cost of the course was accessible on their website, in the information pack and enrolment form sent out to prospective students. They said that the ad was not for automatic enrolment on the course but for providing further free information, primarily through their prospectus. They said that all students were aware of the cost of the course before making commitments and that there was no obligation to enrol on the course after receiving the prospectus.
The Writers Bureau said that once enrolled, students had 15 days after they received the course material to change their mind and receive a full refund. They said that the ad did not state that the course was free and that it was not for automatic enrolment as this was a two-stage sales technique.
The Writers Bureau said that due to word count limits in ads, it was not possible in 50 or 150 words to give all the necessary information required for a consumer to decide whether they should embark on the course or judge whether it was value for money. They highlighted that their prices changed over time and that they produced weekly ads. They said that they wanted to avoid confusion by including the cost of the course in ads because consumers often responded to ads weeks, months and even years after the ad appeared.
The Writers Bureau argued that rule 20.9 of the CAP Code stated “ ... conditions likely to influence a consumers decision to embark on a course” and not “enquire about information”. They said that it was not common practice across the industry to include the cost of the course in ads. They provided a number of examples of their competitor’s ads which omitted the cost of course. They also said that they had been producing ads which omitted the cost of the course since 1989 and it had not been raised as an issue.
The CAP Code stated that in order to avoid misleading consumers, marketing communications for instruction courses must make clear any significant conditions likely to affect a consumer’s decision to embark on a course, such as the cost or the duration of the course.
The ASA noted that the ad featured the claim “No previous experience or special education required”, as well as information about the Proofreading and Copy Editing course on offer. We considered that the cost of the course was likely to be material to consumers interested in the course and they were likely to view it as a significant condition.
We noted that the overall cost of the course was £374 and that there were also monthly instalment payment options available to consumers. While we noted that the ad encouraged consumers to contact The Writers Bureau to obtain further information, we nevertheless considered that the cost of the course would be material information likely to influence a consumer’s decision to enquire further and subsequently embark on the course. We therefore concluded that the ad was misleading.
The ad breached CAP Code (Edition 12) rules
Marketing communications must not materially mislead or be likely to do so.
(Misleading advertising) and
Marketing communications for vocational training or other instruction courses must not give a misleading impression about the potential for employment that might follow.
Marketing communications must make clear significant conditions for acceptance onto vocational training or instruction courses, such as the level of attainment, and significant conditions likely to affect a consumer's decision to embark on a course, such as the cost or the duration of a course. (Vocational training and instruction courses).
The ad must not appear again in its current form. We told The Writers Bureau to ensure that future ads included material information such as the cost of the course.