In 1997 Bristol-based mail order health product specialist Natural Woman received a media pack from Executive Woman.
Who: Natural Woman, Executive Woman
When: November 1999
Where: Bristol Country Court
In 1997 Bristol-based mail order health product specialist Natural Woman (“NW”) received a media pack from Executive Woman (“EW”). An 85,000 circulation and 30,000 subscribers were claimed for the ABC 1 bi-monthly. NW placed a full page ad for £1,000 and bought in product to meet anticipated demand. Not a single call was received and calls to other advertisers in the issue in question revealed similar experiences.
NW smelt a rat and tried to start a dialogue with EW about true circulation levels. This was met with a less than conciliatory response, followed by debt collection letters chasing the £1,000 and the matter ended up in Bristol County Court. The figures in the 1997 media pack, produced by NW at trial, sat uneasily with the EW admission in court that their highest ever print run had been 35,000 and their subscriber database was no greater than 4,000.
The judge held that EW had misrepresented its circulation and subscriber levels in 1997 and dismissed the £1,000 claim.
Why this matters:
If an advertiser buys media on the strength of circulation claims, this is a clear case of a representation inducing a party to enter into a contract. Whether or not the claims form part of the media purchase contract that follows, the 1967 Misrepresentation Act ensures that the advertiser will still have a legal remedy if it turns out that the claims were north of the truth. Though not claimed in this case, this could include compensation for lost profit on sales which it can be shown should have been effected if the circulation claims had been correct.
This is not the first time this year that actual circulation figures have turned out to be less than those claimed. In such cases, hunkering down a la Trinity Mirror with disappointed advertisers and negotiating a settlement is clearly better policy than letting the debt collectors loose.