A law firm representing victims of financial fraud committed at the Reading branch of HBOS, including TV personality Noel Edmonds, has failed to get a TV ad fro Lloyds Bank banned.
The ad, seen on 10 February 2018. The ad showed a black horse galloping through the countryside, past a memorial service, a suburban neighbourhood where a mother was caring for her baby and on a beach with children running behind it. During the ad a female voice said, “Yesterday, today, and tomorrow we have been and always will be by your side.” At the end of the ad text stated “By your side for over 250 years.” Music in the background included the lyrics “We’ve come a long, long way together, through the hard times and the good.”
Keystone Law, which has objected to the actions Lloyds Bank had taken to address it the corporate fraud, challenged whether the ad was misleading.
Lloyds Banking Group plc t/a Lloyds Bank said that the “By your side” claim had been used in their ads since 2015. They said “By your side” was an encapsulation of the services they provided and that both the voice-over and on-screen text supported that sentiment.
Lloyds Bank said the claim “By your side” was meant as a summation of the reliability, accessibility and security provided to customers. They believed that the only claim that required objective substantiation was the longevity of the business, for which they provided evidence by means of the original ledger showing the start date of Lloyds Bank in 1765.
Lloyds said the ad had not promoted a specific product or service and therefore could be neither misleading nor have omitted information that consumers may have needed to make a decision. They said that there was no call to action for the consumer, no direction to call a phone number or visit a website so the ad could not be, by that definition, misleading.
The bank said that, in any case, the ad could be substantiated based on the size of their banking network, the variety of services they offered, their customer base, its volunteering efforts, the average number of customer interactions per customer per month, and other initiatives they had launched.
Lloyds said the complaint was in respect of whether a retail consumer ad was misleading. They said the ad had been designed, created and used for a Lloyds retail bank consumer audience.
The ASA understood that in 2017 six people, including two former HBOS bankers, were found guilty of bribery and fraud against business customers and shareholders from 2002 to 2007. The complainant believed the claim “By your side” in the ad was misleading because they believed Lloyds, who took over HBOS in 2009, had not supported or been “by the side” of their clients and other victims of the HBOS fraud.
The female voice-over stated, “Yesterday, today, and tomorrow we have been and always will be by your side”, while on-screen text stated, “By your side for over 250 years”. The ad did not reference the HBOS fraud case or steps it had taken regarding compensating victims of fraud in general.
The ASA considered viewers would understand the ad to be a general brand promotion, and would understand the claim “By your side” to be advertising puffery, not a claim that would be taken literally, or be seen as requiring objective substantiation. We did not consider that viewers would interpret the claim “By your side” to be a commentary on the situation of the victims of the HBOS fraud case, or to think that it was directly connected to their engagement with Lloyds bank in 2018.
Further, in the context of a general brand promotional ad with no references to fraud, the ASA did not consider the details of the HBOS fraud case to be material information that needed to be included in the ad to prevent consumers from being misled. For those reasons, the ASA concluded the ad was unlikely to mislead and thus was not in breach of the advertising code.