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ASA rulings summary, 27 March & 3 April - pains in the artificial grass, gender stereotypes fails and closing down bank ads

Instead of focussing on their Easter chocolate, over the last two weeks the ASA have been: (i) taking more action on misleading green claims (in addition to CMA enforcement in this area); investigating harmful gender stereotypes; and opining on misleading bank closure claims. 

The grass may not always be greener – ASA ruling against Easigrass (Distribution) Ltd 

What was complained about? The claims for Easigrass'  artificial 'Kensington Eco grass' as being “fully recyclable”, “eco friendly” and that the synthetic lawn “offers a range of environmental benefits” & “ticks all the environmental boxes” were alleged to be misleading. As with other complaints around environmental claims, Easigrass' ability to substantiate their claims was challenged along with their implication that the artificial grass was eco-friendly as opposed to harmful to the environment.  

What was the ruling? Upheld. The ASA considered it reasonable that an average consumer viewing the ads would be given impression that the: (i) artificial grass would be “easily recyclable”; (ii) recycling process would be “widely available and easily accessible”; and (iii) artificial grass would “positively impact the environment in several ways”. However, these perspectives could not be substantiated because: (a) the product could only be recycled at specific centres (three in Europe and one in the UK); (b) Easigrass provided no evidence as to the coating used on the fake grass' 'environmentally friendly' properties; and (c) the reduction in the use of water and pesticides when using artificial grass was not sufficient to demonstrate a positive impact on the environment (and indeed, the use of artificial grass would impact biodiversity negatively). The ASA noted that use of the term “eco-friendly” requires substantial evidence that a product will not harm the environment at any point during its entire life cycle. 

What are the ramifications? The ASA remain stringent as ever that absolute claims relating to a product’s entire life cycle must either be substantiated, or that the ad must clearly qualify the scope of claims being made. This ruling is consistent with the ASA’s approach as seen in:

  • An ad for an electric vehicle where the claim “zero-emissions driving” as to the entire life cycle of the vehicle was not substantiated;
  • as we have previously noted, an ad for a bottled drink which read “DELICIOUSLY REFRESHING, 100% RECYCLABLE*” was misleading where the asterisk referred to a small footnote which explained that the cap and label were not recyclable, as this was not “100%”;
  • the ASA’s ruling against a travel company that its ad was misleading for containing the unqualified claim of “People & planet-friendly small group adventures since 1989" as it omitted significant information that it was limited to the company’s tour offering only. 

Gender Scrubbing ASA ruling against John Mills Ltd t/a JML (“JML”)

What was complained about? A television advert featuring JML’s ‘Hurricane Spin Scrubber’ and was claimed to include “harmful gender stereotypes”. The ad included several women using the scrubber while a male presenter described and demonstrated its features. One actress stated “I’ve given this to my mother as a gift.

This is not the first time JNL have been in gender stereotype hot water, in 2021 an advert for the same product (also featuring all female users, but without a male presenter) was held in breach of the code (BCAP 4.14). This previous version of the ad also included allusions to women being judging on the appearance of their home and their cleanliness. 

What was the ruling? Upheld. The ASA determined that the ad: (i) associated the scrubber with one gender (while a man was featured, he was portrayed in a presenting position of authority and not as a user); (ii) the advert solely featured women using the scrubber, explaining its functionality, and expressing interest in it; and (iii) the male host was aided by a female, who was not depicted in a leadership position, further reinforcing a gender stereotype. ASA viewed the portrayal of distinct gender roles as reinforcing traditional stereotypes. This was in spite of JML's unsuccessful attempts to defend their ad on the basis that: (i) including a male presenter provided ‘gender balance’; and (ii) Clearcast considered the advert to be in line with the CAP and BCAP Advertising guidance on depicting gender stereotypes likely to cause harm or serious or widespread offence

What are the ramifications? Advertisers should remember that Clearcast will not always correctly determine whether an ad will breach ASA rules and should be mindful of ‘anchoring bias’. Both the advertiser and Clearcast appear to have been swayed by the fact that the ad was less overtly gender stereotypical than the previous ad, rather than whether it was potentially harmful on its own objective merits. 

ASA closes down misleading banking ad  

What was complained about? Three separate television, radio and press ads for a bank contained a promise not to close branches until at least 2026, compared to other ‘big banks’. Numerous complainants, including one of the other banks the ad mentioned, challenged the campaign as misleading on the basis that there had been recent branch closures and reduced opening hours at various branches. 

What was the ruling? Upheld. The ASA concluded that it was misleading for the ads to give the impression that branches would be kept open in the long-term and that there had been no recent closures as: (i) the references to other big banks was qualified by text which showed one had closed fewer branches than the bank in question; (ii) in the twelve months before the ad campaign, there had been fourteen closures; and (iii) as the promise lasted until 2026, it would be possible for closures in the long term. 

What are the ramifications? Where a new strategy is envisioned by a business, any claims in its ads must be carefully worded. The ASA will assess these claims against the business' continuing (and in this case, previous) activities to determine if this is consistent with the new strategy. This line of assessment  is consistent with the ASA's approach to green claims. For example, a 2022 ad by a bank was held to be misleading where they made green claims based on aspirational future investment and achieving net zero (which were misleading as the bank still retained finance investments in businesses and industries that emitted significant levels of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gasses).  


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