ASA Adjudication on Firmus Energy (Supply) Ltd
Firmus Energy (Supply) Ltd
A4-A5 Fergusons Way
2 November 2011
Regional press, Radio
Number of complaints:
a. A regional press ad for Firmus Energy, seen on 24 April 2011, stated "PHOENIX CUSTOMERS - don't miss out on 33.5% cheaper natural gas ... Join the thousands of greater Belfast homes that have already switched".
b. A radio ad heard on 2 June 2011 stated "Switch from Phoenix to Firmus Energy and you'll get 33.5% cheaper natural gas. No wonder 5,000 homes have already switched".
Phoenix Supply Ltd challenged whether the claims:
1. "... Join the thousands of greater Belfast homes that have already switched" in ad (a); and
2. "No wonder 5,000 homes have already switched" in ad (b) were misleading and could be substantiated, because a regulatory report published in Northern Ireland for the period up to the end of March 2011 stated that 1,600 homes only (domestic customers) had switched supplier.
CAP Code (Edition 12)
1. & 2. Firmus Energy said the claims were based on the number of customers (homes) who had completed the switch process via Firmus Energy's call centre or website as of the dates of the ads. They considered that was the most accurate and up-to-date reflection of the number who had switched because, from their own customer research, they considered that was the point at which customers considered they had changed from one supplier to another. They said there was a ten working day cooling off period required by regulation, and a nine working day objection period from Phoenix Supply. After that, customers were then required to give 28 days notice to switch back to Phoenix Supply. Firmus Energy said their data showed that more than 99% of customers who completed the switch process by call centre or website went on to become customers of Firmus Energy. Firmus Energy said their claims were not based on figures published by the utility regulator in Northern Ireland because they did not believe they showed the most accurate reflection of the market (because of the time delay between the data and the publication of the report) and because the data quoted only the number of customers who had completed the switch (not the number who had registered to change via Firmus Energy's website or call centre).
Firmus Energy said they had no plans to repeat either of the ads again, although they planned to quote the number of customers or homes that had switched in their future ads.
The Radio Advertising Clearance Centre (RACC) said they had seen substantiation which they believed confirmed that the claim in ad (b) was valid and which suggested that the number of customers likely to cancel during the cooling off period was minimal.
1. & 2. Upheld
The ASA noted that the utility regulator in Northern Ireland's report was dated May 2011; that it took into account data up to March 2011 and that it stated "At 20 May 2011, almost 1,600 domestic customers ... have switched gas supplier", which was less than the figures quoted in Firmus Energy's ads. We noted that Firmus Energy believed the figures on which they had based their claims were valid and more up to date than the utility regulator's report. We noted, however, that their claims took into account customers who were within the cooling off period and who were not, therefore, confirmed as having switched to Firmus Energy. We considered the claims needed to be backed up by evidence that showed conclusively the number of customers who were confirmed as having switched at the time of the ads. Because the evidence Firmus Energy had supplied did not show that, we concluded that the ads were misleading.
Ad (a) breached CAP Code (Edition 12) rules 3.1 (Misleading advertising), 3.7 (Substantiation), 3.11 (Exaggeration) and 3.33 (Comparisons with identifiable competitors).
Ad (b) breached BCAP Code rules 3.1 and 3.2 (Misleading advertising), 3.9 (Substantiation), 3.12 (Exaggeration) and 3.33 (Comparisons with identifiable competitors).
Ad (a) must not appear again in its current form.
Ad (b) must not be broadcast again in its current form.