The cost-of-living crisis: ASA’s warning to advertisers
The warning came as the ASA banned a series of advertisements by Ecom7 for inaccurate claims around the cost efficiencies of an electric-heating product. The ASA has since issued a further ban on adverts placed by nutrition company Huel on similar grounds. A brief summary of these two decisions follows below.
ASA Ruling on Ecom7 Ltd (Ecom7)
Adverts seen in September 2022 for a plug-in mini heater sold by Ecom7 promoted the product as a cheaper and more effective alternative to traditional heating systems, particularly gas heating. The adverts also claimed that the product could be used to heat a 350 sqft room within 3 minutes to create a "cozy" and "warm" atmosphere.
The ASA engaged the Energy Saving Trust (EST) to assess the accuracy of these claims. The EST advised that it would have actually been cheaper to heat a whole house using gas than electricity at the time the adverts were seen and that it was unlikely that a single, small electric heater would provide the levels of comfort of a central heating system.
Ecom7 failed to provide any evidence substantiating the claims made in the adverts. The ASA banned the adverts on the grounds they were likely to mislead consumers, citing CAP Codes 3.1 (Misleading Advertising), 3.7 (Substantiation) and 3.11 (Exaggeration).
Huel Ltd (Huel)
Following the ruling against Ecom7, the ASA has gone on to ban adverts placed by Huel seen in August and September of last year. Amongst other claims that Huel’s meal replacement shakes were a healthy and cost-efficient alternative to traditional meals, the adverts stated that "an entire month’s worth of Huel works out at less than £50" and that "Huel isn’t just the healthy option with perfectly balanced protein, carbs, fats and fibres, it’s the smart option too".
The ASA ruled that the claims were likely to mislead consumers that eating Huel for every meal for a whole month would cost less than £50. Although the advert also stated that the £50 figure was based on just 34 meals, the overall presentation of the advert did not make this clear enough as the clarifying text was in a less prominent position. The ASA also found that the adverts were irresponsible for not making clear that consuming three portions of Huel per day would not provide sufficient calories, noting that the average woman would require £350 worth of Huel to meet their monthly required calorie intake.
The ASA banned the adverts for breaching CAP Codes 1.3 (Social Responsibility) and 3.1 and 3.3 (Misleading Advertising). The ASA also determined that the claim "Huel isn’t just a healthy option" was a general health claim in breach of CAP 15.2 (Food, Food Supplements and associated health or nutrition claims) as it was not accompanied by a specific authorised health claim.
Advertisers will understandably want to make consumers aware of how they can take advantage of any cost-saving benefits. These recent rulings show that the ASA is paying close attention to adverts that speak to the challenges of the current financial environment and underline the importance of complying with the requirements of the CAP Code in this context. In particular, they are a reminder that any claims must be substantiated with evidence (which may be challenged by independent experts) and that any necessary qualifications should be presented with an appropriate level of prominence.