Who: Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) and AB UGG Boots Original t/a AB Ugg Boots
When: 6 April 2016
Law stated as at: 6 April 2016
In November 2015, a hopeful UGG® Boots’ online shopper browsed on website www.abugg.com.au, which appeared to be owned by AB UGG Boots Original (the Company), and on which the following content was displayed:
- “15 Days Money Back Guarantee!” on the order confirmation page;
- “Note: ‘…The style of our sheepskin boots is authentic Australian sheepskin boot style, our boots were made by UGG BOOTS ORIGINAL Company. We make our sheepskin boots in Australia from 100% Australian sheepskin” on the homepage;
- “Cancellation…You should contact us immediately at firstname.lastname@example.org when you wish to cancel any order for the Products placed through our website…It is our sole discretion to instruct our delivery partners to return parcels which are unclaimed/refused back to our premises in Melbourne, Australia…” on the “Return Exchange” page;
- a number of product listings which featured a picture of the boots on an UGG® branded display shelf.
After a rather disappointing experience, including not being able to obtain a refund (as stated on the website), and doubts in respect of the origin of the so called “genuine” UGG® boots, the complainants approached the ASA and challenged whether:
- claim (a) was misleading and could be substantiated because the complainant had only been offered a partial refund;
- the references to Australia at (b) and (c) misleadingly implied the advertisers were based in Australia when in fact the despatch address for the AB UGG Boots Original delivery was actually in Hong Kong;
- the listings at (d) misleadingly implied that the boots were genuine UGG ® boots, when the complainant understood from the goods she had ordered that was not the case.
Further to the complaint, the ASA contacted the Company, which did not respond to the ASA’s enquiries.
Firstly, in dealing with the potential misleading aspect of the conditions of refund within the ad, the ASA considered that consumers would interpret the phrase “15 Days Money Back Guarantee” to mean that they could receive a full refund within 15 days if they were dissatisfied with the product. Given that the complainant claimed she was only offered a partial refund and no evidence was presented by AB UGG Boots Original to the contrary, the ASA concluded that the claim was unsubstantiated and misleading.
Secondly, the ASA considered whether the content could be misleading as to the origin of the goods, and noted that the advertiser’s references to their Australian premises and the authenticity of the branding of “Australian sheepskin” would inevitably lead consumers to believe that AB UGG Boots Original was based in Australia, and that the boots were manufactured in Australia, using Australian materials.
In contrast, the evidence presented to the ASA by the complainant indicated that the despatch address on the order was in Hong Kong. Again, no evidence was presented by AB UGG Boots Original and so the ASA concluded that the advertiser’s claims in this regard had not been substantiated and were misleading.
Finally, the ASA considered whether the ad could be misleading to consumers as to the quality of the goods, and noted that the boots themselves as well as the images of the shelves on which they were displayed contained UGG® branding. Therefore, the ASA considered that consumers were likely to interpret this branding to mean that the boots were genuine UGG® boots. Meanwhile, the complainant asserted that the boots she received were not genuine UGG® boots. In the absence of any evidence to the contrary, the ASA concluded that the advert was misleading in relation to who manufactured the boots and whether the products were genuine UGG® boots.
Therefore, the ASA upheld the three claims and told AB UGG Boots Original to remove the content complained of and not to state explicitly or imply that they were based in Australia. AB UGG Boots Original were also told to remove all UGG® branding from their product listings and not to imply that their boots were genuine UGG® boots.
Following the ASA’s decision, the CAP Compliance team contacted AB UGG Boots Original for an assurance that they would amend their advertising. In the absence of any response from the Company, and given that the website www.abugg.com.au continues to mislead customers, the Compliance team have placed its details on the ASA’s website. These details shall remain on the ASA’s website until AB UGG Boots Original has amended the websites’ claims to comply with the UK Code of Non-Broadcast Advertising, Sales Promotion and Direct Marketing (the CAP Code).
Why this matters:
The ASA’s digital remit was significantly extended on 1 March 2011 in order to enhance consumer protection online. As such, the ASA now has the power to regulate online adverts by advertisers based outside the UK which directly target UK consumers (for example, by hosting a .co.uk website, displaying UK contact details, or prices in British pounds). Therefore, this decision serves as an important reminder that the ASA can (and will) actively use its enhanced digital remit to take action against those non-UK advertisers actively targeting UK customers but who fail to comply with the CAP Code.
In addition, non-UK advertisers should be aware of the potential sanctions which could be imposed upon them for non-compliance with the CAP code, namely, the removal of paid-for search advertising (ads that link to the page hosting the non-compliant marketing communication may be removed) and ASA paid-for search advertisements (the ASA could place advertisements online highlighting an advertiser’s continued non-compliance).