A lettings agent has had its advert banned by the Advertising Standards Authority (ASA).
Claims on www.imslettings.co.uk, under the heading “Landlords Information” stated “Derby’s No. 1 Letting Agent (7 years running). National Award Winning Letting Agent”. Text below an image of a woman holding an award stated “Derby’s No.1 Award Winning Agent”. A banner across the top of each page on the website stated “Derby’s No.1 Letting Agent”.
The complainant challenged whether the claims “Derby’s No.1 Letting Agent (7 years running.) National Award Winning Letting Agent” were misleading and could be substantiated.
IMS Residential (IMS) stated they had been using the tagline since 2005 after providing evidence to the local paper to show that they were the number one letting agent in Derby. They provided two letters from former employees of the local paper which confirmed that approach. They said they believed they were clearly the number one letting agent in Derby. They provided information that they believed demonstrated they had carried out the largest number of credit check applications, had the most company cars and bought more advertising space in the local newspaper than any other agent in Derby.
They also submitted information which they claimed showed they had the most number of properties listed online and had the highest number of letting boards on display in Derby. They also provided results of a mystery shopper exercise, which was carried out after the ad appeared and stated that IMS had the most number of properties to let. They provided further information to show that they registered the greatest number of deposits with one deposit scheme in Derby.
IMS believed that the cumulative effect of all those factors amounted to sufficient evidence to substantiate the claim. They believed it was not fair or reasonable for the ASA to expect them to obtain evidence of the total number of properties let from other agents, because a competitor would not disclose such information and an independent database of such information did not exist.
The ASA considered consumers would understand the claim “Derby’s No.1 Letting Agent (7 years running)” to mean that IMS was the estate agent that had let the most properties in the area over a reasonable period of time. The ASA acknowledged that IMS provided information that they believed showed they had the most company vehicles and newspaper advertising. However, the ASA did not consider that was indicative of how many properties they let in comparison to their competitors.
The ASA considered that the number of credit check applications to one particular credit check provider did not indicate the total number of properties let by IMS or any of their competitors. Whilst IMS did state they believed they had the most number of properties to let listed online, the ASA considered that that would not demonstrate how many properties both IMS and their competitors had successfully let.
The ASA considered that, as not every estate agent was guaranteed to put a board outside a property and as boards could be unscrupulously placed by agents, counting let board presence was not an adequate method of substantiating a claim about market leadership. The ad watchdog understood that, after the ASA had contacted IMS, they had sent a mystery shopper to every estate agent in Derby and asked how many properties they had let that month and/or how many they let on average. However, the ASA did not consider that to be an independent and accurate way of recording the exact number of properties let by their competitors over a reasonable period of time.
The ASA also noted that the CAP Code stated that substantiation must be held by advertisers before making such claims. The ASA considered that the number of deposits registered with one deposit scheme provider did not represent the total number of properties let by IMS or their competitors. The ASA noted IMS maintained that they had let more houses each month than any other agent in Derbyshire. However, because the ASA had not seen adequate documentary evidence to show that that was the case, the ASA concluded that the ad was misleading.
The ad breached CAP Code (Edition 12) rules 3.1 and 3.3 (Misleading advertising) and 3.38 (Other comparisons).
The ASA told IMS that the ad must not appear again in its current form. The ASA also told IMS not to state they were the number one letting agent in Derby if they did not have adequate comparative evidence to support that.