Who: Advertising Standards Authority (the “ASA”) and First Greater Western Ltd (“FGW”)
When: 30 March 2016
Law stated as at: 11 April 2016
FGW published two advertisements in 2015 which received complaints.
The return of Great Western Railway
The first advert was a poster outside London Paddington station, which stated: “The railway belongs to the region it services” with smaller text stating “THE RETURN OF GREAT WESTERN RAILWAY“.
Four complainants believed that the ad implied that FGW was publically owned so challenged whether the ad was misleading because the complainants believed that the ad was owned by an international company.
FGW responded that:
- the claim was designed to “encourage consumers to identify with the change from the name ‘First Great Western’ back to ‘Great Western Railways’, which… would be left for further franchisees to trade under and so ‘belonged’ to the region”;
- FGW contributed to the public purse, increased the value of the local area and supports a fund which helps local council and community groups;
- the ad did not suggest a change in ownership of FGW; and
- the National Rail owned the rail infrastructure and FGW provided the service on behalf of the Government. Therefore, “the railway belongs to the region it serves“.
Notwithstanding these submissions, the ASA held that “The railway belongs to the region it serves” was likely to be understood by consumers as implying that FGW was publically rather than privately owned, particularly because of the use of the word “belongs“.
The ASA considered that the average consumer was “likely to have a general awareness of the manner in which the railways were franchised and operated”, however, there was concern that the ad “might encourage consumers to use or enquire about using the service, for example, out of regional loyalty or because they believed profits directly belonged to the local region”. As such, the ad was held to be misleading.
Isambard Kingdom Brunel
The second complaint related to FGW’s website, www.gwr.com, which stated in large text: “Changing from First Great Western to GWR – Our vision”. Smaller text underneath stated “Our aim is to reinstate the ideals of our founder, Isambard Kingdom Brunel” and even smaller text further stated “going back to the name given to us by our illustrious founder, Isambard Kingdom Brunel, is a huge step … We’re proud to have the chance to bring back Brunel’s original ideals and take them forward into the 21st Century“.
A complainant understood that Isambard Kingdom Brunel (“Brunel”) was not FGW’s founder so challenged whether this was misleading.
FGW responded that Brunel was appointed as Chief Engineer of the original Great Western Railway and is widely recognised as its founding father given his “contribution to the railway”. In addition, the website did not claim that the company itself was founded by Brunel.
The ASA held that this claim was not misleading because in the context of the ad, consumers were likely to understand that “Brunel possessed ideals which GWR aspired to” and not necessarily that he founded the railway.
Why this matters:
Advertisers must carefully consider the potential interpretations of any claims made and not assume that consumers are aware how their industry operates.