Summary of Council decision:
Six issues were investigated, all of which were Upheld.
Website for a company marketing a product called "Water Fuel Cell", designed to convert water into HHO gas. The home page (www.waterfuelcell.co.uk) included the headline claim "Save Fuel, Save Money & Save the Environment". The page also featured a video, with on-screen text stating "Increasing Fuel Prices Show no signs of stopping ... Pollution Show no signs of stopping ... But there is A Solution! How? By Converting Your Vehicle ... Petrol, Diesel, LPG, Any Fuel You Use ... Any Vehicle You Drive Taxi, Car, Vans, Transits, etc. We can convert it With a Water Fuel Cell. Then You Can Reap The Benefits. Improve Performance on your vehicle's engine. Reduce your Emissions Make a Difference in the World. Save Fuel, Save Money and Save Your Business. Visit Our Website www.waterfuelcell.co.uk".
Under the tab "Who's It For" and sub-tabs "Commercial Vehicles" and "Buses and Mini Cab Firms" it stated "As Water Fuel Cell thoroughly cleans out the engine of Carbon it will not need servicing so often. Oil will stay cleaner. The engine will then run slightly cooler as tests have shown. When the engine is kept cool engine parts last much longer. You may not even need a CAT Converter or Diesel Particulate Filter any longer".
Under the tab "How It Works?" and sub-tab "FAQs", it stated "Q. HOW MUCH WILL I SAVE? A. This is a difficult one as each vehicle is different and each person drives differently. You will see an improvement of between 15% and 70% (we have heard of certain vehicles in the US obtaining 250%, obviously they only did a handful of miles to the gallon in the beginning and may be open to exaggeration!). The average is 20 - 50% improvement in MPG. We try not to give over zealous claims so not to disappoint our customers. Most people are extremely pleased with the results".
Under the heading "Q. WILL IT AFFECT MY INSURANCE OR WARRANTY?" it stated "For DVLA purposes this system is classed as a dual fuel like LPG. We issue notes and ready-made letters to our customers for DVLA, the insurance and warranty companies when the system is installed explaining the system, procedures, etc. For a list of participating Insurance companies and more information please see our insurance information page".
Under the heading "Q. DO I NEED TO INFORM ANYONE ELSE BEFORE OR AFTER THE INSTALLATION?" it stated "A. (UK vehicles only). You will have to inform the DVLA of a change of fuel type. It would now be classed as dual fuel. Please visit their website www.dvla.gov.uk for further information. Exactly the same as you would have to do for LPG. Your vehicles registration certificate would then read 'dual fuel' next to 'fuel-type'. If your car was registered after 31st March 2001, you may be able to change your road tax band so you pay less road tax".
The complainant challenged whether the following claims were misleading and could be substantiated:
1. "Save Fuel, Save Money & Save the Environment";
2. "The engine will then run slightly cooler as tests have shown. When the engine is kept cool engine parts last much longer";
3. "You will see an improvement of between 15% and 70%";
4. "For DVLA purposes this system is classed as a dual fuel like LPG"; and
5. "If your car was registered after 31st March 2001, you may be able to change your road tax band so you pay less road tax"; and
6. whether the home page video exaggerated the capabilities of the product.
Water Fuel Cell Ltd informed the ASA that they had temporarily placed a disclaimer on their website, stating that all claims were not to be relied upon as coming from a credible source of information. Water Fuel Cell stated that they were in the process of setting up test studies at a UK university to determine the effectiveness of the product. However, the ASA expressed further concerns regarding the disclaimer, but did not receive any further comments from Water Fuel Cell.
1. ‒6. Upheld
Because Water Fuel Cell did not submit any evidence in response to the ASA's enquiries, we considered that the claims had not been substantiated and that the video exaggerated the capabilities of the product. Furthermore, we acknowledged the advertiser's reference to a disclaimer, which they stated appeared on the website. Consumers were informed that the claims regarding the product's effectiveness were not based on credible sources of information and therefore, were not to be relied upon. However, we considered such a qualification contradicted the efficacy claims of the product and therefore, was not acceptable.
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), 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 11.1 11.1 The basis of environmental claims must be clear. Unqualified claims could mislead if they omit significant information. (Environmental Claims).
The ad must not appear again in its current form. We told the advertiser not to claim that the Water Fuel Cell prolongs engine life, saves consumers money and energy, or is environmentally friendly.