A TV ad for We Buy Any Car Ltd, seen on 2 July 2021, featured a voice-over which stated, “Book an appointment at your local branch, usually no more than 15 minutes away.” Accompanying text at the bottom of the screen stated “Av. customer drive to branch is 13 minutes, Mar - Jul ’20”.
IssueThe complainant, who told us that their nearest branch was 25 miles from their home, challenged whether the average distances stated in the ad were misleading.
We Buy Any Car (WBAC) told the ASA they believed their claim, that a local branch was “usually no more than 15 minutes” away, would be understood by consumers to relate to the drive time of prospective customers. They also said the supporting text statement that the average drive time to a local branch was 13 minutes would be understood by consumers to refer to the branch used by them.
WBAC provided us with figures showing the average drive time for all customers who had sold a vehicle to them between 29 February and 31 July 2020. The data was broken down into 12 regions and gave the average drive times to a local branch for each region, and the percentage of the overall purchases which each region accounted for.
WBAC said they had calculated those drive times based on data entered into their online vehicle valuation tool, where customers were required to enter their postcode to get a valuation of their vehicle. WBAC had then calculated the potential drive time of each entry to the respective nearest branch - based on journey times indicated by Google Maps - using that postcode data. WBAC said they had calculated the average drive time of 13.12 minutes by dividing the aggregate drive time for all sellers by the total number of sellers.
WBAC also provided a second set of figures, showing the average drive time for all individuals who entered their postcode in the online valuation tool, regardless of whether they had then sold their vehicle. That data also included the actual sellers of vehicles used to generate the average drive time of 13.2 minutes in the first set of figures.
Using the same regional breakdown, and again calculating drive time using journey times indicated by Google Maps, those figures indicated an average drive time for all users of the website of 14.3 minutes.
WBAC said that they expected consumers would understand the word “usually” to be a rough indication that most drive times would be less than 15 minutes, while allowing for a significant minority to take longer. They said that they believed a consumer presented with these figures regarding the average drive times would agree that their wording was not misleading.
WBAC said they believed that the average consumer would take a common-sense view of data available to support their claims, appreciating that using the word “usually” indicated that the data had been obtained from actual or prospective WBAC customers. They said that they did not believe the average consumer would have assumed that WBAC could have empirically tested every journey time across Great Britain, to arrive at a mathematically precise average time for all UK residents. They also said they believed that consumers would understand that most amenities were closer to larger population centres, and that consumers would expect journey times in rural or geographically isolated areas to take longer. They said they did not believe that distorted the data, but rather reflected a widely accepted reality that consumers would be aware of from their day to day lives.
Clearcast said that they viewed the claim that a WBAC branch was “usually no more than 15 minutes away” meant that most, but not all, people would be able to drive to their nearest branch within 15 minutes. They said that they accepted the claim made in the ad, as they understood from WBAC’s supplied figures that the majority of customers were able to drive to a branch in 15 minutes or less.
The ASA considered that viewers would understand the claim that a local WBAC branch was “usually no more than 15 minutes away” to mean that most prospective customers would be able to drive to a branch within 15 minutes from their home location.
WBAC had provided one set of figures relating to the average drive time for all customers who had sold a vehicle to them, and another set relating to the average drive time for all individuals who entered their postcode in the online valuation tool, regardless of whether they had then sold their vehicle. We considered that the latter set of figures was more likely to be representative of viewers of the ad, which was the general population who might be interested in using the service to obtain a quote for the sale of their car. The distance of a branch from a consumer’s home could affect whether they would go through with the sale, and therefore a dataset of those who had actually gone ahead with the purchase might not be as representative. We therefore assessed the latter dataset, which we considered was likely to be sufficiently representative of prospective customers in line with viewers’ understanding of the claim.
The figures showed that over 68% of the overall quotes were under 15 minutes’ drive time, which was a notable majority.
We noted that London accounted for 19% of quotes, and removing London’s figures from the overall data meant the average drive time in the remaining regions was 15.3 minutes, which was very close to the figure stated in the ad, and we considered that the London figures did not particularly skew them so as to undermine the overall claim.
We noted that WBAC’s claim regarding the usual drive time consumers could expect was presented as an average, and that therefore some customers would inevitably be further from their local branch than the 15 minutes referenced in the ad. The data confirmed that was the case.
We noted, for example, that the overall figure for Scotland was 16.3 minutes, which again was close to the 15-minute claim, and we did not consider that this rendered it misleading more generally. The figure for Wales was 27.4 minutes, and the longest being the Borders at 40.8 minutes, which were materially higher than the overall average. However, we acknowledged WBAC’s comment that an individual drive time as experienced by one consumer did not materially impact on the wider point concerning average drive times, or the validity of using average times in the ad. We also agreed that people who lived in rural areas would generally expect to face longer journey times to reach local amenities than those who lived in urban and city environments. Those rural customers were likely to have had a larger impact on the figures for Wales, which made up a relatively low number of quotes, though we noted that there were a number of WBAC branches across Wales meaning that many prospective customers would nonetheless have been able to drive to a branch in 15 minutes or less. Again, we considered that the overall claim was supported by the figures, given viewers’ likely understanding of their own locations.
Because we considered that the figures supplied by WBAC showed that most people who had used their valuation tool would have been able to reach a branch within 15 minutes, we considered that supported the claim that branches were “usually no more than 15 minutes away” and that it was therefore not misleading.
We investigated the ad under CAP Code (Edition 12) rules 3.1 (Misleading advertising), and 3.9 (Substantiation), but did not find it in breach.
No further action necessary.