Who: The Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) and four advertisers: Ecom7 Ltd t/a Instacool; Ecomm Movadgency SL; Keilini Technology lnternational Co Ltd; and Label Products BV t/a InstaHeat.
Where: United Kingdom
When: 25 January 2023
Law stated as at: 08 February 2023
The ASA has taken a strict approach on misleading adverts by banning adverts which claimed that a product would help consumers reduce their energy bills.
On 25 January 2023, the ASA banned four adverts for plug in mini-heaters for making “misleading” and “unsubstantiated” claims. Four different companies published adverts which appeared to be selling the same plug in mini-heater product. The adverts claimed that the mini-heater was a cost-efficient alternative to using gas-powered central heating.
The four adverts were published in the autumn of 2022 and targeted consumers who were looking for ways to reduce their bills. The adverts made direct and indirect references to energy security and the cost-of-living crisis. For example, the Ecom7 Ltd advert described the mini-heater as “the perfect solution to the UK gas crisis”, and the Keilini Technology advert stated that it could “combat soaring energy bills”. The ASA raised concerns that these statements were misleading and exaggerated.
Some of these adverts also made misleading claims about the effectiveness of the heaters. The Label Products advert stated that buyers could “heat almost for free this winter”, and the Keilini Technology advert described the mini-heater as being capable of heating “every area in your room in just 60 seconds”. The companies did not provide any evidence to consumers or the ASA to substantiate these claims.
Other misleading and unsubstantiated claims included references to safety tests carried out by “top regarded institutions” (Label Products advert). When the ASA challenged the company, they did not provide any evidence of any safety testing. There were also references to other organisations such as the “national weather agency” predicting the coldest winter yet (Keilini Technology). However, there is no UK organisation with this name and role.
The ASA raised questions to the advertisers and summarised its concerns. None of the companies responded.
To help assess the validity of the claims, the ASA asked the Energy Saving Trust (EST) to provide further information. The EST pointed out that gas is currently cheaper than electricity and, therefore, using gas central heating should cost less. Furthermore, the EST said that it is likely that a single radiator would be more efficient at heating a room compared to a plug in mini-heater.
The ASA found that these adverts were in multiple breaches of the UK Code of Non-broadcast Advertising, Sales Promotion and Direct Marketing (CAP Code). In particular, they could mislead the consumer, were they unsubstantiated and significantly exaggerated the benefits of the product. All four adverts were banned in their current form.
Why this matters:
This ruling demonstrates that the ASA is willing to take strict approach to misleading adverts, particularly those claiming that a particular product will save customers’ money on their bills.
As the cost-of-living crisis continues, the ASA is likely to review other adverts which promise a product will help consumers save money. If adverts appear to target vulnerable customers, such as those on lower incomes or the elderly, the ASA is likely to raise additional concerns.
This example also shows that the ASA may decide to seek independent advice and follow their guidance, particularly if the advertiser makes specific claims and does not respond to the ASA’s enquiry.