Summary of Council decision:
Two issues were investigated, both of which were Upheld.
A website for Essay Writing Service UK, www.essaywritingserviceuk.co.uk, seen on 18 May 2018, included text on the home page which stated “Get the grades you Need and Achieve More Today! … GRADE GUARANTEE Get the grade you ordered first time, or your money back Plagiarism Free Free plagiarism report with every order … Only for you The work you order will never be re-used or re-sold”.
The complainant challenged whether the claims:
1.“Get the grade you ordered”, “Plagiarism free” and “The work you order will never be re-used or re-sold” misleadingly implied that consumers could hand the essay in as their own; and
2.“Grade guarantee Get the grade you ordered” was misleading and could be substantiated.
They explained that the claim “Get the grade you ordered” referred to their grade guarantee (further details in Point 2 below), and how if the customer used the work they purchased as a model for their own work, they would be able to achieve their desired grade. They explained that the purpose of the model answer was to learn from the arguments, understand all the elements required to achieve the desired grade and to learn from the key sources provided in the answer to help complete further reading and research on the topic. They said at no time did they make the claim that a student could submit the work provided as their own and be guaranteed to get any grade. They explained that would be academic misconduct and plagiarism, which was something that all students were clearly instructed by their academic institutions as being unacceptable and not permitted. They said that their customers already knew this and as such these were the rules they followed in their marketing communications and that the message was re-enforced throughout the ordering process.
They further explained that the claim “Plagiarism free” referred to the originality of the research undertaken for the model answer. They said that their customers wanted work that was unique to their own situation and task, and that they therefore promised to provide them with bespoke work which had not been plagiarised.
They said that the claim “The work will never be re-used or re-sold” referred to the nature of the licence provided to the customer for access to the final product. They said that the consumer had commissioned the work on the basis that it was for them to use to develop their own work and that it therefore had an intrinsic value to the customer and would remain on exclusive licence to them.
They said that they did not consider that their website misled any consumers into believing that they could use the work they purchased in place of their own and that this was reiterated during the customer’s journey through the website. They said that students would be fully aware that plagiarism was academic misconduct and that the website had many pages dedicated to how the service offered should be used.
2. Essay Writing Service UK said that their grade guarantee was a feature of their overall guarantees of service and that full information about it could be found through the website menu. They explained that the service they provided was intended at all times to be a learning tool and guide to assist their customers in creating and improving their own work. They said that at no time did they insinuate or suggest that the essays bought should be treated or used in place of a student’s own work or towards their own qualification. This was reiterated throughout the website and ordering process.
They further said that the grade guarantee was clearly detailed on their website. They highlighted a section which stated that the service was “designed to assist you in crafting a bespoke research paper… The paper that you order is to be used as a study guide only. It is to assist you with your essay or dissertation writing. Our policy does not allow any student to submit their order, claim it as their own and then request a refund if it does not meet their grade requirements”. They said that when they wrote model answers and marked consumer’s work, they applied a standardised criterion to the grades. They provided a copy of the marking criteria. They explained that when they graded work, they ensured that it was completed by individuals who had previous official experience of assignments at the standard of the work required. They said they were confident that where students used the marking service, the grade that Essay Writing Service UK’s markers assigned to the consumers own answer would be the grade they achieved when it was submitted to their university. They explained that they only guaranteed the grade for the work they marked and that they could not and did not suggest that they could force the academic body to issue the grade. They further said that they would provide a refund for the marking service they provided if the consumer failed to achieve the grade they had given the work. They said they were fully aware that marking of work was proven to be subjective and that no two individuals marked work in the same way. They said that nowhere in any communication did they state that the work they produced would guarantee a client a specific grade upon it being marked by an academic body or institution.
The home page of the website included a number of claims such as “Get the grade you ordered”, “Plagiarism free”, “The work you order will never be re-used or re-sold”, “Get the Grades you Need and Achieve More Today”. There was also a list of services they offered which included “Essay Writing Service”, “Dissertation Writing Service” and “Proofreading & Editing”. The page also included the option for consumers to select from three different grades of undergraduate work including a 2:2, 2:1 and a first. Each option was accompanied by an “Order now” button.
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 that essays would be plagiarism-free, and the grade guarantee. In that context we considered that consumers would understand from the challenged claims that they could purchase an 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. Information on a web page headed “Is this cheating?” drew to consumers’ attention the risks of submitting the purchased essays as their own, which explained that the act of doing so would, in itself, constitute cheating. The page stated “Should anyone submit one of our model answers as their own work … they are indeed cheating – both cheating the system, and cheating themselves out of the unique opportunity to receive expert tutoring in essay writing”. We also noted that the same page stated that the purchased essays, or ‘model answers’, were intended to serve as a basis for the customer’s own further research and essay of their own.
A page titled “Essay Writing Service” included further claims such as “Using our service will ensure you get the grade you aspire to achieve”, “Guaranteed your [underlined] essay will meet the standards of the grade you specify, first time, or you get your money back” and “Our custom essays are written exclusively for you, to your exact requirements”. The same page also stated “… we will return to you a perfectly written answer to form the basis for your own revision, study or essay writing endeavours”. Similar information about the potential risks was also set out in a number of questions in the FAQ section. Further, a page titled “Guarantees” included detail about the grade guarantee which made it clear to consumers that they could not submit the essay they purchased and request a refund if they did not achieve the grade they ordered.
We noted that consumers could proceed to the order page to purchase an essay without being made aware of the risks around submitting the purchased work as their own. Consumers would only be aware of the additional information if they accessed the above described pages through the menu bar. For example, to access the “Is this cheating page?” consumers would have to click on the “About” link on the menu bar. We considered that even if consumers had read the “Is this cheating?” page the relevant FAQs or guarantee page, they were insufficient to counteract the overall misleading impression given by the website that consumers would be able to submit purchased essays as their own without repercussions.
Because we considered consumers would expect from the ad that they could submit purchased essays as their own without risks, which was not the case, we concluded that the ad was misleading.
On that 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. 3.3 (Misleading advertising) and 3.9 (Qualification).
We considered that consumers would understand the claim “Grade guarantee Get the grade you ordered” to mean that any essay they ordered would be at the grade they specified, for example, a 2:1 and that this would be the grade they achieved if they handed the work in as their own. We further considered that consumers would understand that the guarantee would apply to any purchase of an essay, dissertation or other original work.
We understood that the grade guarantee related to an additional option (which came at an extra cost) for the customer to have the answer they wrote based on the advertiser’s ‘model answer’ marked by Essay Writing Service UK’s writers. Consumers were eligible to apply for a refund if they did not achieve the grade that they had ordered the model essay to be or the grade that the advertiser’s writer indicated the consumers’ own answer would achieve. On a page titled “Guarantees” under the heading “Guaranteed to be the Grade You Order or Your Money Back” it explained that the paper ordered was only to be used as a study guide and that the policy did not allow for any student to submit the work they ordered, claim it as their own and then request a refund if it did not achieve their grade requirements. We noted that consumers would only be aware of the specifics of the grade guarantee if they visited the “Guarantees” page which could only be reached from the navigation bar.
We considered that whilst the information was available on the “Guarantees page”, consumers could go through the process of purchasing an essay without being given this detailed information, and therefore it could be overlooked. We further considered that it was not clear to consumers that the claim “Grade guarantee Get the grade you ordered first time, or your money back” meant that if the consumer paid to have their work marked by Essay Writing Service UK and did not achieve the indicated grade they were eligible for a refund, rather than that if they handed in the essay they purchased it would achieve the grade for which they had paid. We therefore concluded that the claim was misleading.
On that 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. and 3.3 (Misleading advertising).
The ad must not appear in its current form again. We told Thoughtbridge Consulting Ltd t/a Essay Writing Service UK to ensure that their website did not misleadingly imply that students could submit purchased essays as their own without risks. Further, we told them to ensure that they did not misleadingly imply that all grades were guaranteed when that was not the case.