Who: JB Global Ltd t/a Oak Furniture Land (“Oak Furniture Land”) and the Advertising Standards Authority (the “ASA”)
When: 19 October 2016
Law stated as at: 9 November 2016
The ASA held that claims made by Oak Furniture Land, that their products were made from solid hardwood and did not contain any veneer, were misleading due to the advertiser’s use of a technique referred to as ‘oak wrap’. Oak wrap involves gluing numerous small segments of hardwood together, with a thin outer layer of hardwood wrapped around them.
The claims made by Oak Furniture Land included the following: “No veneer in ‘ere“; “Solid hardwood“; “100% solid hardwood furniture“; “100% Solid“; and “All of our cabinet furniture is made from 100% solid hardwood from top to toe; veneer, plywood and chipboard are never used” (the “Claims”).
The central tenets of Oak Furniture Land’s position were that (i) the true purpose of a veneer was to create the impression that furniture was made from hardwood, when actually it was not; and (ii) that solid hardwood would be interpreted as meaning that the products in question contained nothing other than hardwood. Oak Furniture Land submitted nine separate pieces of evidence in order to justify their claims, including a customer survey, expert evidence, confirmation from Clearcast that the ad had been cleared in advance, and even multiple dictionary definitions of the term ‘veneer’.
Despite the evidence submitted by Oak Furniture Land, the ASA upheld the complaint and held that the Claims were misleading. The ASA dismissed the consumer survey on the grounds that the way in which the questions were framed did not show whether respondents would consider the specific manner in which Oak Furniture Land’s table legs were constructed to be consistent with the Claims. The ASA also disputed the expert report on the basis that it did not necessarily reflect the perspective of the average consumer who had seen the ads.
The ASA’s fundamental objection to the Claims was that consumers would be unlikely to expect from the Claims that parts of the furniture would actually be made from numerous smaller segments of wood glued together. In addition, the ASA believed that oak wrap in effect, functioned as a veneer.
Why this matters:
Substantiation of a claim is essential and advertisers must hold adequate substantiation before objective claims are made. Advertisers should ensure that any substantiation they obtain in relation to objective claims focused on the specific claims being made and any obvious complaints that may arise in relation to those claims. In this instance, two of the key pieces of substantiation submitted by the advertiser were refuted by the ASA as they either did not reflect the consumer’s perspective, or did not clearly address the claims being made.
It’s clear that the advertiser spent a great deal of time, effort and resource in attempting to rebut the complaint; however, despite this, the ASA upheld the complaint and failed to acknowledge what flaws it found in most of the evidence submitted by the advertiser. The ASA’s assessment appears to be relatively brief considering the volume of evidence presented by the advertiser and it would have been helpful if the ASA had provided more detailed reasoning behind their decision.
Oak Furniture Land’s chief operating officer, Terry King, stated that: “We are genuinely shocked and baffled at the ASA’s decision to challenge matters which are central to our advertising campaign. […] The current language we use in our advertising is commonly and widely used across the retail industry, to help the consumer make a clear distinction between “solid”, “no-veneer” products, and furniture made with poorer quality materials – covered with thin wood or man-made veneers.[…] Consequently, the ASA’s decision could have far-reaching implications for the furniture retail industry as a whole.” As a result, it seems likely that Oak Furniture Land may challenge the ASA’s decision as it prohibits them from using their current advertising slogan at all.