The Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) has ruled that online estate agents Purplebricks did not make sufficiently clear in a recent TV ad that the fee payable to them was always required to be paid even when a property had not been sold.
The first TV ad featured a younger and an older couple discussing the sale of a house. The younger woman said, “We sold the house”, to which the older man replied, “That’s great. Simon did you sell with Purplebricks?” Simon asked, “They are just online aren’t they?” The older man answered, “No, no, they are proper estate agents, you just don’t pay commission.” Simon said, “No commission. Oh. One minute, please.” He then got up from his seat and placed his head in a cupboard and screamed loudly. The voice-over stated, “Ah, commisery [sic]: the misery you feel when you spent thousands on commission but got nothing more for your money. Save yourself from commisery [sic] at purplebricks.com.” On-screen text displayed during the ad stated “Viewing service costs extra. Saving based on Purplebricks flat fee vs using a High street estate agent …”.
The second TV ad was set in a kitchen with two women sat a table. The first woman asked, “So you must be happy you’ve sold the house?” The second woman replied, “Yeah, it’s exciting.” The first woman asked, “Did you use Purplebricks?”, to which the second woman responded “Aren’t they just online?” The first woman answered, “No, they’re proper estate agents, they’re real people. They just don’t charge commission.” The second woman replied, “Sorry, what?”, and the first woman responded “Just, no commission.” The first woman said “Right”, and dropped her face into a cake which was on the table in front of her. The voice-over stated, “Ah, commisery [sic]: the misery you feel when you spent thousands on commission but got nothing more for your money.” The second woman looked at the first woman and said, “That’s good to know isn’t it?”, and the second woman responded “Yeah.” The voice-over stated, “Save yourself from commisery [sic] at purplebricks.com”. On-screen text displayed during the ad stated “Viewing service costs extra. Saving based on Purplebricks flat fee vs using a High street estate agent …”
The ASA considered that the average consumer would understand from the ad that Purplebricks offered a different charging model to high street estate agents and based on the dialogue in the ad, “… you just don’t pay commission” that it was not commission based. The ASA considered from the overall ad, including the on-screen qualification, consumers would understand that Purplebricks charged a flat fee. However, the ad watchdog considered that they would likely understand that a fee was payable but not that the fee was always required to be paid upon commissioning Purplebricks services, even when a property had not been sold. The ad regulator said it considered the fact that the fee was always payable was material information that would allow consumers to make an informed decision about using Purplebricks services.
While the ASA acknowledged Purplebricks intended to highlight that they did not charge a commission but instead charged a flat fee, it considered that flat-fee payments were relatively new in the housing market. Further, the ASA considered because of how infrequently consumers sold their properties, the average consumer was likely to be more familiar with the traditional commission-based model. The ASA considered that it was not sufficiently clear in the ads that the fee payable to Purplebricks was not conditional on the sale of the property and therefore concluded that the ad was misleading.
The ASA told Purplebricks ads must not be broadcast again in their current form. It also told Purplebricks to ensure that when making a comparison to other fee models in their ads, they made it clear that their flat fee was always payable.