Loft insulation is not a very sexy product, so how do you get the punters to pay attention? Two methods were tried recently but both came a cropper in front of the Advertising Standards Authority.
Topic: Misleading advertising
Who: British Gas Trading Limited t/a Scottish Gas and Ray Sayers Insulation & Preservation
Where: The Advertising Standards Authority
When: July 2003
In a recent batch of "complaint upheld" findings by the Advertising Standards Authority, two advertisers, one that should have known better, were castigated for going over the top in attention grabbing headlines. They were both trying to sell loft insulation.
British Gas stated "URGENT PRODUCT RECALL!" on the direct mailing envelope, whilst Ray Sayers deployed that well known mind-concentrating device, the headline "PUBLIC NOTICE", followed by the phrase "NOTIFICATION OF WORKS".
The British Gas mailing featured a photograph of a pair of protective gloves, and the relevance of the product recall announcement appeared to be that if British Gas installation experts were used, the customer would not need to do it themselves and would therefore not require the gloves shown.
In the case of Ray Sayers, the circular went on to state that the company was carrying out work to properties in the recipients' area.
British Gas defended their position on the basis that the mailing was targeted at 35-55 year olds, who would understand fully that the "product recall" announcement was tongue in cheek. They had also received no complaints in respect of the 92,000 mailings using this device that had gone out. They added that the British Gas name appeared on the reverse of the envelope, but this did them down. The ASA took the view that because the material was clearly from a utilities company, the urgent product recall statement was more likely to alarm recipients. The importance of the mailing was misleadingly exaggerated and was likely to cause undue fear and distress, the ASA concluded, so the complaint was upheld.
Ray Sayers said they were indeed going to carry out work to other properties in the areas where the circular was being distributed, and the "Public notice/notification of works" wording was relevant because recipients could call a free phone number to find out the effects which the works might have on the recipients' parking or on noise or dust levels near their houses.
The ASA was unswayed by these eloquent submissions and felt the wording clearly implied that this was an official notice of work due to be carried out to the complainant's area, not an invitation to contact the advertiser to have work carried out.
It was not clearly an advertisement and the complaint was again upheld.
Why this matters:
These are not the first, and surely will not be the last occasions on which the ASA has to deal with complaints about marketing tactics like this. What is most surprising perhaps is that British Gas should be involved.