The ASA recently decided that a TV ad claiming cars were “kind on the environment” was misleading. Candice Macleod looks at sadly not the first verdict of its kind and also eyes the impact of current green legal developments on the UK motor industry.
Who: Advertising Standards Authority
When: 15 April 2009
Law stated as at: 21 April 2009
A television advertisement used by dealership Mill Garages North East Ltd (“Mill Garages”) to promote the Volvo DRIVe car models (new additions to the C30, S40 and V50 ranges) claimed that these vehicles were more environmentally friendly than other Volvos because they offered substantially lower CO2 emissions and better fuel consumption.
The television advertisement showed models from the Volvo DRIVe range together with a voice-over stating “…available on C30, S40 and V50. Offers low emissions and outstanding fuel consumption …”A man was shown with the cars; he stated “these cars are kind on the environment and extremely kind on your pocket. Now is the time to choose Volvo”.
A viewer challenged whether the claim “these cars are kind on the environment” was misleading and could be substantiated.
ITV said that they had approved the advertisement locally on the basis of the evidence provided to them by Mill Garages in relation to CO2 emissions, fuel consumption, mpg and as a result of time constraints. However, ITV went on to say that similar advertisements would be centrally cleared in the future.
The Advertising Standards Authority (“ASA”) noted that, in combined cycles, the C30 1.6D DRIVe had CO2 emissions of 115 g/km and the S40 and V50 1.6D DRIVe had emissions of 118 g/km. The ASA acknowledged that the cars were in band B of the Government’s vehicle bandings for CO2 emissions, A to G, and had emissions below 120 g/km, which were considered to be low; the claim “offers low emissions” was therefore acceptable.
The ASA accepted that Mill Garages had intended their advertisement to highlight that these vehicles were more environmentally friendly than other Volvo models and considered that it would have been acceptable for them to claim “kinder on the environment” (http://www.asa.org.uk/asa/adjudications/Public/TF_ADJ_46112.htm).
Critics may ask the question ‘Kinder than what?’ A Lamborghini Murcielago? Certainly, walking? Perhaps not.
The ASA considered that in its current form, viewers were likely to interpret the claim “these cars are kind on the environment” in absolute terms: in other words the ad would be understood to mean that the DRIVe range caused no harm to the environment. Because that was not true, the ASA concluded that the advertisement was misleading.
The advertisement breached CAP (Broadcast) TV Advertising Standards Code rules 5.1.1 (Misleading advertising), 5.2.1 (Evidence), 5.2.2 (Implications) and 5.2.6 (Environmental claims).
A spokesman for the dealership said the advert had been changed following advice from the ASA.
Why this matters:
With the much anticipated car scrappage scheme on the verge of being given the green (??) light, many dealers will no doubt be fighting for their share of sales to the (supposedly) eco-driven purchaser.
The car scrappage scheme
The car scrappage system would entitle UK buyers to a discount of approximately £2,000 on a new car if they scrap their old one. To qualify for the scheme the old car would need to be at least 9 or 10 years old and the owner would need to prove that the vehicle had belonged to them for a minimum period (predicted to be 6 months) and had been taxed over the previous 6 or 12 months.
Following new car sales fall 30.5pc to 313,912 in March 2009 (traditionally a key month because of the change in number plates) and a 60pc fall in the total number of vehicles manufactured so far in 2009 in the UK (http://www.telegraph.co.uk/finance/financetopics/budget/5155726/Budget-2009-will-a-car-scrappage-scheme-help-the-motor-industry-turn-the-corner.html), the Environmental Transport Agency has criticised the true motive behind the car scrappage scheme, describing it as a “motor industry bail out masquerading as a green initiative” (http://www.telegraph.co.uk/motoring/environment/5159775/Scrappage-schemes-not-green.html).
Risk to consumer
The frenzy for car manufacturers and dealers to prove and promote the green credentials of their vehicles in anticipation of the car scrappage scheme, may lead to many being unable to resist stretching the truth in an attempt to sell their product on the back of the green ticket, especially since the Treasury will inevitably set a time and/or financial budget for implementing the incentive.
Advertisers should therefore be vigilant when it comes to environmental claims for cars and consumers should be careful to verify such claims when purchasing a vehicle on the grounds that it is ‘kinder’ to the environment.