A lettings agent has been ordered to pull a press ad and leaflet following a complaint.
Derby-based IMS Lettings Ltd’s press ad stated “NOW LET. IMS LETTINGS Derby’s No.1 Award Winning Agent”. The ad also featured an image of an award which contained the text “LETTINGS AGENCY of the YEAR 2010 THE SUNDAY TIMES THE TIMES FINALIST”.
The leaflet featured an image of a ‘To Let’ sign which included the text “Derby’s No.1 Award Winning Agent”. The sign also included a small image of an award”.
The complainant challenged whether the claim “Derby’s No.1 Award Winning Agent” was misleading and could be substantiated.
IMS Group Ltd (IMS) told the Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) they were recognised as Derby’s No.1 Letting Agent and had been for many years. They stated that they were dominant in the Derby marketplace in every area of business. They said they were able to ascertain this by conducting mystery shops on competitors, independent board surveys and e-mails from competitors to prospective landlords confirming the number of lets per month for all major competitors. They said they had let three times the number of their nearest competitor. They stated that they had more branches, more staff, more cars, more ‘To Let’ and ‘Let By’ boards and had more properties on Zoopla, rightmove and on the individual letting agency websites. They did not provide documentary evidence to support these statements.
They provided evidence to demonstrate that they had won a property services directory website award 2012 and were shortlisted for the “Best Medium Lettings Agency Award” in association with The Times. They said they would also remove the claim “Derby’s No.1 Letting Agent” from their website and letterheads.
The ASA welcomed the changes IMS said it would make to its website and letterheads. It considered the claim “Derby’s No.1 Award Winning Agent” would either be understood to mean that IMS had won the largest number of awards (compared to other agents in Derby) or as a claim that the agency had won at least one award and also had let the most number of properties (compared to other agents in Derby) over a reasonable period of time. Because of the ambiguous way in which the claim was presented the ad regulator considered that it had the potential to mislead.
The ASA noted IMS had won a website award in 2012 and had been shortlisted for another award in 2010. However, evidence was not supplied to demonstrate that it had won more awards than any other agent in Derby. IMS believed the “No.1” element of the claim could be supported by having more company vehicles, staff and branches. However, the ASA did not consider that was indicative of how many properties they let in comparison to their competitors. Whilst IMS believed they had the larger number of properties to let listed online, the ASA believed that this did not demonstrate how many properties both IMS and their competitors had successfully let.
The ASA said 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.
It also did not consider the firm’s mystery shopping on competitors to be an independent and accurate way of recording the exact number of properties let by their competitors over a reasonable period of time.
While IMS maintained that they had let more houses each month than any other agent in Derbyshire, because the ASA had not seen adequate documentary evidence to show that that was the case, it concluded that the ad was misleading.
The ASA therefore concluded that the claim “Derby’s No.1 Award Winning Letting Agent” had not been substantiated and the ad was misleading.
The ads breached CAP Code (Edition 12) rules 3.1, 3.3 (Misleading advertising), 3.7 (Substantiation) and 3.33 (Comparisons with identifiable competitors).
IMS was told that the ads should not appear again in their current form. The ASA also told IMS not to state or imply that they were the number one letting agent in Derby if they did not have adequate comparative evidence to support it.