A TV ad for short-term loans company Oakam Loans, has been banned by the Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) for misleading advertising.
The ad, seen on 15 August 2018, featured a voice-over which stated, “Ask Oakam about borrowing up to £1750, one four two one per cent APR representative variable”. On-screen text stated “1421% APR representative (variable)”.
The complainant challenged whether the voice-over statement of the representative APR (RAPR) as “one four two one per cent” was misleading.
Oakam Ltd said that the RAPR of 1,421% was presented visually and verbally in order to ensure clarity. They said the rate was visible for 13 seconds at the start of the ad and was the first piece of written information the viewer would see.
Oakam said the way the RAPR was presented verbally was a common way to present a number. They said that presenting it that way did not change its mathematical value and they believed viewers would understand “one, four, two, one” and “one thousand four hundred and twenty one” as the same number. They said the pace at which each digit was stated was consistent, that each was individually distinguishable and pronounced in a clear and audible manner. They said the numbers were not interjected by the words “point” or “dot” or any other term that would commonly signify a decimal point and as such there was no reason to assume that the numbers were separated by a decimal point or represented any other number other than 1,421.
Clearcast said the RAPR was clearly qualified on screen from the beginning of the ad and that each digit was stated clearly and audibly. They believed that it would not cause confusion to viewers.
The ASA noted that the ad centred on a woman’s story of how she needed money but did not think she would be accepted as a customer of a loan company because of her circumstances. At the end of the ad, the woman stated, “I asked Oakam and they said yes” and we considered that the story of the ad was that Oakam were able to offer loans to customers who might be rejected elsewhere.
The ASA noted that at the start of the ad when the woman began her story, the on-screen text stated “1421% APR representative (variable)”, and while it acknowledged that the rate remained visible for 13 seconds, the ad watchdog considered that viewers’ attention would have been drawn to the woman’s story as opposed to the on-screen text and that a failure to express the RAPR intelligibly in the voice-over risked creating ambiguity regarding the applicable rate.
After the woman had finished that part of her story, the voice-over began by stating “Ask Oakam about borrowing up to £1750”. The ASA considered that statement was spoken at a speed which allowed viewers to clearly understand what was being said, particularly when accompanied by on-screen text which stated “Ask Oakam borrow up to £1750”. By contrast, the words that followed, “one four two one per cent APR representative variable” were said at a faster pace and there was no obvious reason for that change of speed. Furthermore, saying the numbers in that way meant that the RAPR was not expressed in a way that percentages would ordinarily be communicated. Those factors meant that the RAPR was presented less clearly in the voice-over than the amount that could be borrowed. The ASA also noted that the RAPR had disappeared from the on-screen text at the point the rate was spoken, meaning consumers would be left to interpret the voice-over quickly by itself.
Given that the rate was so large that it extended to four digits, the ad watchdog considered that it could be unclear to viewers whether or not there was a decimal point between two of the digits, or that viewers could easily miss what was being said, such that it became “one four two per cent” (142%), “one four one per cent” (141%) or “four two one per cent” (421%). Even for those who heard each digit, the effect of saying the digits individually meant that the word “thousand” did not have to be said. The ASA considered that carried a significant risk that viewers would underestimate the rate.
Because the ASA considered that the voice-over expressed the RAPR in an ambiguous manner and that the on-screen presentation of the RAPR was insufficient, given the relative prominence of the voice-over and on-screen text, to clarify that ambiguity, it concluded that the ad was misleading, breaching BCAP Code Rules 3.1 and 3.2 (Misleading advertising).
The ad is not allowed to be broadcast again in its current form. The ASA told Oakam Ltd to ensure that their future ads did not mislead by presenting the RAPR in an ambiguous manner.