“X-ray film. Please do not bend” screamed an envelope containing nothing of the kind but a financial services mailing instead. Did this breach the CAP Code? Surely a fine upstanding life insurer like FP would not be so improvident? David Pawan opens the envelope
Topic: Direct marketing
Who: Advertising Standards Authority
When: 26 March 2008
Where: United Kingdom
Law stated as at: 21 April 2008
A Friends Provident Life and Pensions Ltd ("Friends Provident") mailing to 10,000 customers was contained in a rigid brown envelope that resembled a medical records folder.
Bold text in red on the envelope stated "X-RAY FILM PLEASE DO NOT BEND", and text in the bottom-left corner of the envelope gave a reference number and a date which appeared to be handwritten.
The reverse of the envelope featured small text that stated "If undelivered, please return to: Friends Provident …". The mailing within the envelope contained an X-ray photo of a pinned joint with text at the top of the page stating "OUCH! I bet that hurts … ".
The reverse of the page showed a number of coins and a bank note with the text at the top of this page stating "OUCH! … in more ways than one". Further text gave details of Friends Provident Income Protection and stated "Taking time off work due to accident or illness can be financially, as well as physically painful … Friends Provident Income Protection can help … And you won't have to experience the pain twice".
As a result of this, three complainants challenged the mailing on the following grounds:
- whether the nature of the mailing was likely to cause distress by masquerading as official medical records; and
- whether the envelope made clear that it contained marketing material.
Friends Provident's response
Friends Provident contended that the mailing was a new design concept that was issued to 10,000 customers as a test run. They conceded that they had not fully appreciated the impact the mailing could have on recipients who were waiting for medical results, or whose family members were waiting for medical results. Moreover, the advertiser acknowledged that the presentation of the envelope was such that it could have been mistaken for official medical records, and accepted that the envelope should have made clear that it contained marketing material.
Friends Provident therefore informed the ASA that they had withdrawn the mailing, that they had no plans to reuse it, and that they had issued written apologies to those customers who had complained to them directly. Additionally Friends Provident stated that they had revised their internal procedures and briefed their agency to avoid encountering a similar situation in the future.
The ASA upheld the complaints.
It considered that recipients were likely to infer that the mailing contained test results or other medical records from a hospital, and the small text on the reverse of the envelope that made reference to Friends Provident was insufficient to correct that impression. The regulator was concerned that the mailing had caused alarm to some recipients, and had misled them to believe the envelope contained official medical records belonging to them or those close to them.
The ASA concluded that the mailing breached CAP Code clauses 7.1 (Truthfulness), 9.1 (Fear and distress) and 22.1 (Identifiable marketing), and that the envelope should have stated clearly that it contained marketing material to avoid giving a misleading impression of its contents and causing distress to recipients.
As a result of the above mailing, Friends Provident has been advised to contact the CAP Copy Advice team for guidance on the presentation of future mailings.
Why this matters:
Marketers who propose to send out mailings should consider not only the content of the mailings, but also the envelopes themselves. In 1999 CAP produced its Help Note on Claims on Envelopes.
The Help Note describes five types of high risk creative approaches:
- Envelopes that masquerade as social correspondence – for example by using hand-written text or printed styles, postage stamps or other devices/forms of presentation that consumers often associate with social correspondence;
- Envelopes that masquerade as official correspondence – claims such as "Final Reminder", "Security Tabbed Documents Enclosed" and "Penalty Notice Enclosed" are likely to mislead as to the importance of an envelope's contents;
- Envelopes that masquerade as private commercial correspondence – claims such as "Important: Your Policy Documents Enclosed", "Private/Personal & Confidential", "Official Notice/Official Documents Enclosed" etc should be avoided as they are likely to misleadingly imply that mailings contain private information;
- Envelopes that contain other misleading claims – including those that imply that mailings have been sent recorded or express delivery when this is not the case; and
- Envelopes that alarm or offend or contain content that might alarm or offend – for example "Enclosed: Medical Test Results" and "Important: You Are At Risk".
Marketers should also be wary of potential Data Protection Act issues if any data relating to the recipient appears on the envelope exterior apart from the name and address.
Osborne Clarke, London