Summary of Council decision:
Two issues were investigated, both of which were Upheld.
A website for The Oxbridge Research Group, www.oxbridgessays.com, an essay writing service, seen in July 2018, included claims on the home page which stated “With Oxbridge Essays, it has never been easier to get the grades you’ve always wanted … First class? 2:1? No problem. We work with over 1,900 of the UK’s best academics to make sure you get the grade you want … Get better grades We’ll send you the product you have ordered on your chosen delivery date - it’s that simple”. Further text on a page headed “Dissertation writing services” stated “We put the time and effort into making every piece of work we write the best it can be - and the results speak for themselves … Your dissertation will include everything your university requires: introduction, research question, chapter outlines, literature review, methodology, analysis, recommendations and conclusion … Whatever standard you choose, we guarantee the work will be to that standard … Oxbridge-educated academics The vast majority of our writers have studied or taught at the UK’s two best universities, Oxford and Cambridge”.
The complainant challenged whether:
1. the ad misleadingly implied that students could submit an essay they bought as their own; and
2. the claim “The vast majority of our writers have studied or taught at the UK’s two best universities, Oxford and Cambridge” was misleading and could be substantiated.
1.& 2. The Oxbridge Research Group Ltd t/a Oxbridge Essays said that they stated across the website that the work purchased by consumers should not be handed in directly. The website also stated how to use the work correctly and referenced over 20 times that the work was intended to be used as a model answer. They considered that nowhere on the website did it explicitly or implicitly imply that consumers could hand the work in as their own. They highlighted three examples on an FAQ page and one example on the “Essay Writing Service” page which stated that submitting the work would be cheating and that they were intended to be used as model answers.
Oxbridge Essays provided us with a copy of a spreadsheet which stated that 71% of their writers had either taught or studied at the universities of Oxford or Cambridge. They also provided us with a breakdown of how many writers they had for each subject and information about their recruitment process.
The home page of the website included a number of claims such as “it has never been easier to get the grades you wanted”, “First class? 2:1? No problem” and “We put the time and effort into making every piece of work we write the best it can be”. The ASA considered the overall impression of the home page was that consumers would be able to submit the purchased essays as their own, particularly because of the claims “100% guaranteed plagiarism-free”, “we make sure you get the grade you want”, and in a section about how the service worked, the claim “Download your work … sign in to download your custom essay or dissertation”. In that context we considered that consumers would understand that they could purchase a custom essay of a particular grade that was plagiarism-free to hand in as their own work.
We noted that other pages of the website contained further information about the services available and how they should be used. A page titled “Essay Writing Service” included claims which stated that the service would help get consumers the grades they needed by providing essays which were tailored to their exact specifications on any subject. A page titled “Dissertation writing services” included similar claims about the standard of work Oxbridge Essays could produce and that the results spoke for themselves. Both pages included the option for consumers to select the academic level they needed the work to be, for example undergraduate, the number of words, and the grade ranging from a 2:2 to an upper first. The options were accompanied by a ‘Calculate price and order’ button.
We acknowledged the advertiser’s comments that the “Essay Writing Service” page stated “Our essays can help you get the grades you need by giving you a template you can learn from and build on with your own original work”. Additionally, the “FAQ” page under the heading “About Oxbridge Essays”, and the sub heading “How can you help me get better grades?” explained that the academic working on a customer’s project would write a model essay that could serve as a personalised study guide and could be used as a template for their own work. Another question on the same page titled “Is this cheating?” stated that using the service properly was not cheating as the essays could be used to direct the consumers’ studies. It further explained that if a consumer handed in the work they purchased as their own that it would be cheating and it cautioned consumers against doing so. Similar information about the potential risks of handing in the work was also set out in the FAQ “Can you guarantee my grade?”. The page stated that Oxbridge Essays guaranteed the grade of the work provided by the academic, but not the grade the consumer would achieve, as it did not advocate handing in the work as the consumer’s own because it would be considered cheating.
We considered that the information that Oxbridge Essays’ products were model template essays, which consumers would need to further personalise and should not submit as their own because it would be considered cheating, was material information that was likely to affect consumers’ understanding of the product and their transactional decisions. We noted in particular that consumers could proceed to the order page to purchase an essay without being made aware of that information. They would only be made aware of this if they accessed the above described pages through the menu bar. For example, to access the “Is this cheating?” question, consumers would have to click on the “FAQ” link on the menu bar and then follow through to “About Oxbridge Essays” heading. We considered that the references to template essays and information in the “Essay Writing Service” and “FAQs” pages, in the context of all the claims on the website, was not sufficiently prominent to counteract the overall misleading impression it gave that consumers would be able to submit purchased essays as their own without repercussions and the risk of plagiarism.
Because we considered consumers would understand from the ad that they could submit purchased essays as their own without risks, and the website did not make sufficiently clear that was not the case, we concluded that the ad was misleading.
On that point, the ad breached CAP Code (Edition 12) rules
Marketing communications must not materially mislead or be likely to do so.
Marketing communications must not mislead the consumer by omitting material information. They must not mislead by hiding material information or presenting it in an unclear, unintelligible, ambiguous or untimely manner.
Material information is information that the consumer needs to make informed decisions in relation to a product. Whether the omission or presentation of material information is likely to mislead the consumer depends on the context, the medium and, if the medium of the marketing communication is constrained by time or space, the measures that the marketer takes to make that information available to the consumer by other means. (Misleading advertising) and 3.9 3.9 Marketing communications must state significant limitations and qualifications. Qualifications may clarify but must not contradict the claims that they qualify. (Qualification).
We considered that consumers would interpret the claim “The vast majority of our writers have studied or taught at the UK’s two best universities, Oxford and Cambridge” to mean that almost all of the writers who wrote for Oxbridge Essays had either completed a degree or taught at either Oxford or Cambridge universities, and that it was more likely than not that any essay they purchased would have been written by one of those writers. We further considered that the reference to “Oxbridge” in the advertiser’s trading name contributed to that impression.
We understood from Oxbridge Essays that 71% of their writers across all subjects had either studied or taught at Oxford or Cambridge and that as part of the recruitment process, the writers were required to provide copies of their degree certificates. We considered that was not sufficient to meet consumers’ expectation, based on the advertising claim, that almost all writers had a degree from, or had taught at, one of those universities, and that it was more likely than not that an essay would be written by a writer from one of those universities. We therefore concluded that the claim 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) and 3.11 3.11 Marketing communications must not mislead consumers by exaggerating the capability or performance of a product. (Exaggeration).
The ad must not appear in its current form again. We told Oxbridge Research Group Ltd t/a Oxbridge Essays to ensure that their website did not misleadingly imply that students could submit purchased essays as their own without risks, when that was not the case. Further, we told them to ensure that they did not misleadingly imply that almost all of their writers had studied or taught at either Oxford or Cambridge universities.