The Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) has banned a direct mailing from Provident Financial.
The mailing, dated November 2018, featured text at the top of the page which stated “Short term cash loans £100 – £1,000 Subject to affordability” and “Representative 535.3% APR”. Text in the middle of the page stated “[recipient’s first name], It wouldn’t be Christmas without – The look on her face [beneath a photograph of a small child smiling, wearing a Christmas cracker hat and with Christmas lights in the background] – Decorating grandad [beneath a photograph of two girls laughing as they hung tinsel around an older man] – Visiting loved ones [beneath a photograph of two people in winter coats hugging on a railway station platform]”. Text continued “Christmas can be an expensive time of year, so it’s good to know, if you need a loan, we could be here to help. You could borrow between £100 to £1000 (subject to affordability). If you’ve not heard of us before, we help people get credit when others have turned them away. Simply visit [website address] and start your application online …”.
The complainant, who believed the ad targeted vulnerable consumers by suggesting they would be letting down their family at Christmas if they did not take out a short-term loan, challenged whether the ad was irresponsible.
Provident Personal Credit said the ad was aimed at customers of their home credit product, who typically worked to tight budgets and for whom unexpected expenses or expensive times of year could have a significant impact. They said credit was issued only following a face-to-face meeting in a customer’s home, where their needs were discussed and where checks on affordability, suitability and sustainability were made, after which collections were made weekly. They believed customers were therefore unable to obtain credit quickly or thoughtlessly as a result of the ad.
Provident said some of their customers took out loans at Christmas but said the images used in the ad were chosen to represent the sentiment of Christmas rather than frivolous or non-essential purchases. They said the text was worded cautiously to convey the message that the option of a loan was one way of helping to manage finances over what can be an expensive period, rather than being the only way.
The ASA acknowledged that the text which included “Christmas can be an expensive time of year …”; ” … if you need a loan, we could be here to help” and “You could borrow” was worded cautiously and that the images used in the ad did not show expensive presents or other purchases in any obvious way. However, the ASA considered the photographs of a small child smiling and wearing a Christmas cracker hat above the text “The look on her face”; the two girls laughing as they hung tinsel around their grandfather and people in winter coats hugging on a railway station platform, preceded by the text “It wouldn’t be Christmas without”, were likely to play on consumers’ emotions by evoking aspects of how many people celebrated Christmas, and would pull particularly hard if people were already struggling and worrying about the cost of Christmas.
The ad watchdog considered the text “Christmas can be an expensive time of year, so it’s good to know, if you need a loan, we could be here to help – You could borrow between £100 to £1000 (subject to affordability)”, appearing directly underneath the photographs, suggested that celebrating Christmas was costly, and that the possibility that someone might need to take out a loan to pay for it was acceptable and normal.
The ASA noted the procedures Provident had in place for approving loans, which they felt ensured that credit could not be taken out quickly or thoughtlessly. However, it considered the personalised format of the ad, using the recipient’s own first name; the sympathetic tone of the text and the sentimental nature of the photographs together were likely to put emotional pressure on consumers to the effect that, if they needed to, it was acceptable to go further than they would otherwise have been able to afford by taking out a loan and that, if they did not, they would be letting their family down. The ASA therefore concluded that the ad did target vulnerable consumers and was irresponsible.
The ad breached CAP Code (Edition 12) rule 1.3 (Responsible advertising) and must not appear again in the form complained of.
The ASA told Provident Personal Credit Ltd t/a Provident to ensure future ads did not send an irresponsible message about debt to consumers by, for example, putting emotional pressure on them to take out a short-term loan.