The ASA received a complaint which challenged whether a catalogue was misleading because it did not clarify that many energy saving light bulbs were incompatible with dimmer switches. Omar Bucchioni enlightens us all.
Who: ASA and J D Williams & Company Ltd t/a House of Bath
Where: United Kingdom
When: 16 September 2009
Law stated as at: 30 September 2009
Recently the Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) investigated a complaint in respect of a mail order catalogue from House of Bath. In particular, the ASA focused its attention on a section headed “Energy saving long life bulbs”. Several energy saving bulbs were offered, under headings such as “No Bigger Than a Standard Bulb”, “Replicates Natural Daylight”, “Great Value Only £2.50 each” and “Replaces Halogen Bulbs”.
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The ASA received a complaint which challenged whether the catalogue was misleading, because it did not clarify that many energy saving light bulbs were incompatible with dimmer switches.
In their response to the ASA, House of Bath explained that they had not tried to conceal information about energy saving light bulbs in their ad and that they believed all significant information had been included.
The House of Bath felt that the extent of information they could include to explain why any particular product might not be suitable for a buyer was limited.
In any case, all House of Bath products were covered by a 28-day returns policy so, if a customer bought a product which turned out not to be suitable, they could return it for a full refund or replacement.
Dimmer switch incompatibility confirmed
The ASA found that it was not possible to use dimmer switches in conjunction with all energy saving light bulbs and that none of the products featured in the catalogue were suitable for use with dimmer switches.
As the relevant section made several references to standard bulbs in comparison with energy saving light bulbs (e.g. in relation to their size, lumens output and lifespan), the ASA considered that the impression consumers were likely to take from the ad was that the products offered were a direct alternative to the standard bulbs they currently used.
Although this is not stated in so many words by the ASA, the returns policy argument did not wash for the simple reason that if it had worked, it would have rendered even the most misleading mail order ad claim immune from enforcement action.
In the circumstances the catalogue section complained of was held to breach clauses 7.1 and 7.2 of the CAP Code and the complaint was upheld.
Why this matters:
The key message here is that by making various claims as to equivalence with standard bulbs the advertising became misleading unless it also stated ways in which the advertised products were not direct alternatives.
This assessment seems harsh in some ways, but is characteristic of the increased crackdown on “greenwash” claims and all other advertising which takes advantage of environmental concerns.