Summary of Council decision
Two issues were investigated, of which one was Not upheld and one was Upheld.
Two ads for Direct Line car insurance, broadcast in September 2020:
a. A TV ad featured a voice-over which stated, "When you're lost in the price comparison universe searching for car insurance, even X-ray vision might not reveal the best deal. Come back down to earth and come direct to Direct Line. You could save up to £170 and get car insurance that really solves your car problems …" Accompanying on-screen text stated "45% of consumers could save up to £170. Excludes optional extras. Research by Consumer Intelligence Ltd, conducted 01/06/20 to 30/06/20 for verification: directline.com/proof". A graphic on-screen then showed a car having an accident and the voice-over continued, "So if... oops. Oh dear. Don't worry, we're on it to get you a tow truck and a taxi to get you to where you were going (so long as it wasn't space). Search Direct Line car insurance. We're on it. Direct Line." Accompanying on-screen text stated "Taxi to one UK destination. Comprehensive cover only. Terms and conditions apply".
b. A radio ad stated, "When you're looking for car insurance it's easy to get lost in the price comparison universe." Echoing and whispering voices were then heard in the background saying, "Is this the best deal out there?", "We've got the best deal". The voice-over continued, "Come back down to earth and come direct to Direct Line. We're not on price comparison sites but we can still save you up to £170. We solve problems, you save money. Come direct for car insurance. We're on it. Direct Line. 45% of consumers can save up to £170. Includes optional extras. Research by Consumer Intelligence Ltd. Conducted in June 2020. For verification directline.com/proof."
Confused.com challenged whether:
1. the claim in ad (a) "get car insurance that really solves your problems" was misleading, because it implied that car insurance through Direct Line was superior or had added benefit compared to car insurance obtained through a price comparison website; and
2. the price comparison in ads (a) and (b) was misleading, because it was based on a comparison with direct insurers only and that was not clear from the ads, which focused on price comparison websites.
1. Direct Line said their car insurance had many features and not all of them were available in other products in the market. For example, they offered onward travel after an accident; were committed to not reducing ‘no claims’ discounts after accidents that were not the fault of the named driver; guaranteed the use of a hire car while a car was being repaired; and carried out repairs within seven days or provided a payment for taking longer, and offered a ‘mileage moneyback’ scheme. They said their product could offer a great deal for many customers.
They believed they offered benefits that were unique and under one policy that were not available through price comparison sites. They provided some research based on the features of key competitors which, they believed, showed that certain benefits were unique to Direct Line.
Clearcast pointed out that the whole statement was “You could save up to £170 and get car insurance that really solves your car problems” and the word “and” was emphasised by the voice-over artist. The statement “get car insurance that really solves your car problems” was not made in isolation; it was made in the context of saving money whilst also finding an insurance package that suited the particular consumer. When using the complete sentence, they believed the statement was valid and fair.
They were satisfied with the evidence that some consumers could save the specified amount and find an insurance package that worked for their particular needs, thereby ‘solving’ the problem of an insurance that was less bespoke. The claim, when taken as a whole, did not imply that insurance packages through comparison sites were unlikely to be suitable; it was presenting Direct Line as an alternative option and pointed out the fact that some viewers could find a car insurance option from Direct Line that they were happy with, both in terms of price and policy.
2. Direct Line said their price saving data had been provided by an external research agency, who had also approved their messaging to ensure it was appropriate to the data. They understood the agency’s data was used by many insurers and price comparison websites, including the complainant, and the data covered over 80% of the market. However, they had not directly compared their price to prices on any price comparison websites; only to prices that were obtained directly from the insurance providers, some of whom were also on comparison sites and some of whom were not.
They understood that the research agency provided the substantiation for savings claims made by all insurance advertisers across both the direct and comparison site markets and based it on a ‘bucket’ of around 1,200 risks, whereby the products that covered those risks were included in the comparison set. They had been told by the agency that it had not been possible to provide a comparison of Direct Line’s pricing to policies obtained via price comparison sites. The approach they used, therefore, was to compare to prices obtained from other insurers directly and they believed that covered the majority of the market (based on active policies). They pointed out that some of those insurers would have also been listed on comparison sites, but the prices obtained for them was for taking out a policy with them directly.
They had used the data in the same format as other insurance providers for their message and they had been unable to identify any company that used the same data and confirmed in its advertising that it was a ‘direct price’ saving, including price comparison websites. They believed it was therefore market practice not to specifically state the basis for which the savings would be made, i.e. by buying direct, or highlight that the data did not cover the whole market.
Whilst they had not intended the comparison to be with prices on price comparison websites, they believed their prices were competitive enough for the “up to £170” saving to be achievable had this been done.
Direct Line continually monitored their performance against the market for both price and product offering. They were comfortable that although the data for the pricing claim was based on direct sales, their pricing position in the market was such that during the period the ads were on air, there was a reasonable likelihood of 45% of consumers being able to save up to £170 whether receiving quotes on a price comparison website or direct from the provider. They provided a spreadsheet which, using data from the external research company, ranked insurance providers across the market (i.e. direct brands and brands on price comparison websites) on the basis of how often during the four months the ads were on air that they offered the cheapest price (as a percentage of time) and which also ranked them according to the percentage of time they were amongst the cheapest five prices. Direct Line pointed out that they had been the cheapest price in the market more times than any other provider and had consistently been amongst the top five lowest prices in the market.
They were therefore comfortable that while the ads did not state the basis of the comparison to direct insurers, the saving quoted in the ads was achievable and the message was not misleading.
In relation to ad (a), Clearcast said Direct Line had supplied robust evidence for the basis of their savings claim and the number of consumers benefiting from it. The evidence not only detailed the basis of the claim, it assured them of Direct Line’s methods for obtaining that information and presenting it as a valid and fair conclusion. They understood that the complainant also relied on the same independent body to monitor the sector.
Clearcast believed that because Direct Line was not listed on price comparison websites, it would be in keeping with the spirit of the BCAP Code to compare their savings claim with like-for-like competitors. As they were a direct insurer, they considered that comparing their prices with other direct insurers was the most fair and clear method of communication. They had worked with them to ensure they supplied the necessary information in the ad as succinctly as possible so that viewers would have the opportunity to understand the details of the claim without being overwhelmed with facts and figures. They were also satisfied with the inclusion of superimposed text that directed viewers to the full and specific evidence so they could verify the claim. They believed it would be unfair to expect a direct insurance provider to compare their prices to a service unlike their own. It was sufficient to make a like-for-like savings claim within their own specific sector and state the basis of that claim along with the location of their evidence for verification purposes.In relation to ad (b), Radiocentre said they endorsed Direct Line’s response. They pointed out that the full statement was “We’re not on price comparison websites but we can still save you up to £170” which they felt suggested parity with savings achievable through comparison sites, rather than a saving against comparison sites.
1. Not upheld
The ASA understood that the complainant believed the statement “get car insurance that really solves your problems”, in the context of the ad which opened with the line "When you're lost in the price comparison universe searching for car insurance, even X-ray vision might not reveal the best deal. Come back down to earth and come direct to Direct Line”, implied that insurance provided through Direct Line was superior to that which could be purchased through a comparison site and that purchasing through a price comparison site would not solve consumers’ car problems.
We noted that the statement “get car insurance that really solves your car problems” was unqualified and was not linked to a particular benefit or feature of Direct Line’s car insurance.
We considered that because the statement was vague, lacked explanation and was not linked to a particular benefit or feature, viewers were unlikely to interpret it literally to mean Direct Line could “really” solve car problems where other insurance providers could not. We therefore considered that the statement was advertising puffery, rather than an objective comparative claim that required substantiation.
We concluded that the statement “get car insurance that really solves your car problems” in ad (a) was not misleading.
On that point, we investigated ad (a) under BCAP Code rules 3.1 3.1 Advertisements must not materially mislead or be likely to do so. (Misleading advertising) and 3.33 3.33 Advertisements that include a comparison with an identifiable competitor must not mislead, or be likely to mislead, consumers about either the advertised product or service or the competing product or service. (Comparisons with identifiable competitors), but did not find it in breach.
The BCAP Code stated that ads that included a price comparison must make the basis of the comparison clear.We considered that the ads focused on highlighting the difference between obtaining car insurance direct versus through a price comparison website. The opening line of ad (a) was “When you're lost in the price comparison universe searching for car insurance, even X-ray vision might not reveal the best deal. Come back down to earth and come direct to Direct Line” and the accompanying graphics showed a large number of computer screens with images on them stating, for example “Car insurance deals”, “Even better deals. Search” and “Save! Save! Save!”. That was immediately followed by the claim “You could save up to £170…”. Similarly, ad (b) opened with the line “When you're looking for car insurance it's easy to get lost in the price comparison universe". Echoing and whispering voices were then heard in the background saying "Is this the best deal out there?", "We've got the best deal". The voice-over continued, "Come back down to earth and come direct to Direct Line.” That was followed by the claim “We're not on price comparison sites but we can still save you up to £170”. The price comparison was therefore made in the context of taking out car insurance with Direct Line versus price comparison sites and we considered consumers were therefore likely to interpret the ads to mean the “up to £170” saving related to insurance products listed on price comparison sites.
However, we understood that the price comparison in the ads, that consumers could save “up to £170” if they got their car insurance through Direct Line was a comparison with prices obtained from other insurance providers directly, and did not include prices that were obtained via price comparison websites such as Confused.com. We understood that the comparison set covered 80% of the market and included some competitors who were also listed on price comparison sites, but the prices used in the comparison were those obtained directly from the company and not via price comparison sites.
We considered the evidence provided by Direct Line and noted that whilst it included insurance brands across all channels, including those available on price comparison websites, it related to market position in terms of price rather than actual prices. It was therefore insufficient to show that consumers could save up to £170 by going with Direct Line versus other car insurance brands, including those available on price comparison websites.We also had concerns that the comparison data set included some providers who were direct only and not on price comparison websites. As noted above, because consumers were likely to interpret the price saving to be a comparison with insurance available through price comparison sites, their inclusion in the data set was therefore problematic.
We considered that because Direct Line had not shown that in relation to those insurance providers also available on price comparison websites, their prices when going direct would always be the same as, or cheaper than, their prices on comparison sites, and because the comparison also included prices from direct insurers only (who were not listed on price comparison sites). In the absence of a suitable qualification explaining the basis of the comparison (that prices were compared with insurers directly and did not include prices obtained via price comparison websites), we concluded that the price comparison was likely to mislead.
On that point, ads (a) and (b) breached BCAP Code rules 3.1 3.1 Advertisements must not materially mislead or be likely to do so. (Misleading advertising), 3.18 3.18 Price statements must not mislead by omission, undue emphasis or distortion. They must relate to the product or service depicted in the advertisement. (Prices) and 3.39 3.39 Advertisements that include a price comparison must make the basis of the comparison clear. (Price comparisons).
The ads must not be broadcast again in their current form. We told Direct Line to ensure their ads did not include comparative claims that were likely to mislead consumers. In particular, we told them to make clear the basis of any price comparisons.