Who: Financial Conduct Authority (FCA); The John Lewis Partnership plc (John Lewis)
Where: United Kingdom
When: 25 October 2021
Law stated as at: 22 November 2021
The “Let Life Happen” ad was created to promote John Lewis’ new home-contents insurance offering. It depicted a young boy strutting around his home, deliberately causing havoc through various actions including smearing paint on the walls and floor and throwing glitter in the air. John Lewis explained that the intention of this advertisement was to “show a joyful depiction of a young actor getting carried away with his performance, oblivious of the unintentional consequences of his actions“. The likely idea behind this was to illustrate the benefits of putting money aside for unforeseen events, to make the proposition of its new product more attractive.
However, the FCA contacted John Lewis on 25 October 2021 with concerns that the advertisement could mislead consumers. In particular, the boy featured appears to be deliberately causing damage to his household. In their statement following contact from the FCA, John Lewis highlighted that “accidental damage cover is available as an add-on to John Lewis’s new home contents insurance product and only covers accidental (not deliberate) damage“.
In addition to requiring the statement, the FCA requested that John Lewis withdraw all active promotions of the broadcast campaign. As a result, John Lewis withdrew the ad from circulation, and announced that they intend to contact each customer who had purchased the new home contents insurance cover in question from 11 October 2021 to 31 October 2021 to confirm that they understood the nature of their new insurance and were happy with their purchase.
In light of their findings in this case, an FCA spokesperson highlighted that “financial services firms’ marketing must be clear, fair and not misleading.”
Why this matters:
The FCA’s reaction to this ad re-enforces its ongoing focus on ensuring that ad campaigns deliver an accurate depiction of the product so that consumers can make informed decisions – most recently seen in its call for a further crackdown on online advertising and its support for the Online Safety Bill. Although not necessary in this case, the FCA has the power to force brands to withdraw adverts – taking the view of how it may appear to consumers, rather than the intention behind the promotion. The FCA also works with the ASA in relation to adverts for products outside its regulatory perimeter. The reaction to this ad reminds brands to consider carefully the clarity of their advertising campaigns and how their new product will be perceived by consumers in light of the full context and content of the relevant ad.