The Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) has banned a television advert from GAIN Credit (trading as Lending Stream).
The TV ad for short-term loans company LendingStream.co.uk, seen in February 2018. The voice-over in the ad stated, “Hello, need a short-term loan? Then look no further than Lendingstream.co.uk. We stream loans. A fast, simple, secure way to get money.” Text at the bottom of the screen stated, “Representative 1325% APR …”.
The voice-over then said, “Lending Stream lets life flow on, helping you through the everyday ups and downs. Apply today and you could get from £50 to £1,500. Representative one three two five per cent APR. So go online and start streaming. Welcome to Lending Stream.” Text at the bottom of the screen stated again “Representative 1325% APR”.
26 complainants challenged whether the voice-over statement of the Representative APR (RAPR) as “one three two five per cent” was misleading.
GAIN Credit LLC t/a Lending Stream said the RAPR was provided prominently and in an easily understandable format. As well as being included in the voice-over, it was also clearly displayed on screen in large text and appeared for six seconds as the only on-screen text directly underneath the graphic that encouraged viewers to “apply now”. It also appeared in the legal text at the bottom of the screen and in those various formats, it appeared for 24 seconds of the 30-second ad. They believed the way the RAPR was spoken was common in the market and provided a spreadsheet which included a number of examples of ads by other loan companies that had also expressed the RAPR as individual digits. They stated that the Financial Conduct Authority (FCA) raised a concern with their ad, which Lending Stream considered as minor, in relation to whether the disclaimer text at the bottom of the ad was clearly visible, due to the dynamic background with moving images and a possible lack of contrast in the colouring of the wording and the background image. Lending Stream said that they believed the FCA had no concerns of any kind in relation to the depiction of RAPR, whether visually or verbally, and provided positive comments on the RAPR visual depiction being in more than one location for an extended period of time in the ad.
Clearcast considered that stating numbers of three or more digits in the way it was done in the ad was an acceptable and well-established way of speaking. For example it was common in advertising to see an item of furniture priced at £799 being referred to as “Seven nine nine”. They therefore considered that the voice-over presented the RAPR in a sufficiently clear and intelligible manner, and a manner that the ASA had previously accepted. They said if there was any ambiguity in the way the RAPR was expressed, it was resolved by having the RAPR also stated in on-screen text for almost the entire ad.
Clearcast also stated that the acceptability of stating numbers in this way in TV ads was a practice on which the ASA had previously adjudicated. They referred to a previous ruling in which the ad in question was found not to be misleading because the ruling stated “the separate statement of each digit was a reasonably common way in which to present numbers … and that, while the more common pronunciation of the figure would have been unequivocal, the RARP as stated in the ad would be understood”.
The ASA noted that the RAPR of 1,325% was included in on-screen text in one form or another for the majority of the ad. However, it considered that the on-screen text was not so prominent as to over-ride the impression created by the voice-over, and that a failure to express the RAPR intelligibly in the voice-over, risked creating ambiguity regarding the applicable rate.
The ASA had previously ruled on an ad that included a voice-over that stated an RAPR of 603% as “six oh three per cent”. In that case, it considered that the three digit number had been delivered at a reasonable pace and was clearly enunciated. The ad watchdog noted that the word “oh” was commonly used instead of “zero” when describing that digit, and it acknowledged that a separate statement of each digit was a reasonably common way in which to present numbers. The ASA therefore concluded that the ad had not breached the Code, but it made clear that the most common enunciation “six hundred and three” would have been unequivocal and avoided potential ambiguity.
Lending Stream’s ad stated that viewers “could get from fifty to one thousand five hundred pounds” and that those figures were said using the most common form of expression. The ASA noted that the RAPR was spoken immediately after those figures in a comparatively subdued tone and more quickly than the amounts that could be borrowed, and was expressed as “representative one three two five per cent APR”. There was no obvious reason for the change of speed, tone and way of expression, and the effect was that the RAPR was not expressed in a way that percentages would ordinarily be communicated. It was therefore presented considerably less clearly in the voice-over than for the amounts that could be borrowed.
Given the interest rate was so large that it extended to four digits, the ASA considered that it could be unclear to viewers whether there was a decimal point between two of the digits, or that viewers could easily miss the first or last digits being said, such that the RAPR became “one, two three per cent” (123%) or “two three five per cent” (235%). All of which could result in them believing the RAPR was significantly lower than the actual RAPR of 1,325%. 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 of viewers underestimating the amount of the RAPR.
Therefore, because the ASA considered that the voice-over expressed the RAPR in an ambiguous manner, and because we considered 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).
This means the ad must not be broadcast again in its current form. The ASA told Lending Stream to ensure in future that their ads did not mislead by presenting the RAPR in an ambiguous way.