Company names and URLs


INSIGHT
Published
Apr 26th '24
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When the Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) assesses a complaint about an ad, they don’t look at individual claims in isolation – they assess the ad in its entirety.  In some cases, the ASA has ruled that advertisers’ choice of company name or the URL for their website has been one of the factors that misled consumers and resulted in a breach of the Committee of Advertising Practice (CAP) Code.

 

The following guidance explains how to avoid breaching these rules.

 

  • Relevant Code rules

When ads mislead consumers because of something in the company name or URL, there are a number of different CAP Code rules they could breach.

 

The rules in Section 2 (Recognition of marketing communications) of the CAP Code state that advertising should be obviously identifiable as advertising. Ad rules state that the commercial intent of ads should be clear, and they’ll breach this rule if they imply (for example) that they are communications from official public bodies, or that they’re neutral comparison websites.

 

The rules in Section 3 (Misleading advertising) state that ads must not materially mislead, or mislead consumers by omitting material information (Rule 3.3). This is defined as any information that consumers need to make informed decisions in relation to a product. Ad rules state that disclaimers (or ‘qualifications’) can be used to clarify  claims, but they should not contradict the claims that they qualify.

 

  • The status of trademarks

A trade mark can include a business, product or brand name, logo, slogan or sound. A registered trade mark symbol (®) indicates that a trade mark has been registered. In short, the registration of a trade mark ensures that it will be protected under the Trade Marks Act 1994. The (®) symbol should not be used if the mark is not registered, as its use could mislead consumers, and is likely to be unlawful. For unregistered trade marks, (™) should be used.

 

Registering the name of their limited company as a trade mark does not give advertisers an unrestricted right to use their company name in a manner likely to mislead.

 

  • Implied claims in company names 

In some cases, the information conveyed by a company name can be misleading. For example, in 2023, the ASA investigated the name of a home broadband provider, ‘6G Internet’, and found that consumers would expect the provider to use a next generation 6G internet technology, when this was not the case. The company name ‘6G Internet’ was deemed misleading (6G Internet Ltd, 16 August 2023).

 

In another case, the ASA ruled that, due to myriad reasons, including the informal and individualistic company name, ‘Ben’s Gutters’, the overall impression was that the ad was from a small, independent business, which was not the case. The ad was misleading, as the principle of supporting an independent business was likely to be a significant factor influencing a consumer’s decision (Ben’s Gutters Ltd, 22 December 2021). A similar conclusion was reached in respect of ads for the same company in 2023, as various indications that the company was in fact a national company were overridden by the overall impression of the ads (Ben’s Gutters Ltd, 20 December 2023).

 

In other cases, ads have breached the Code by implying that the advertisers were an official, government approved service (UK Deed Poll Service Ltd, 18 March 2020), an official, government-associated publication (Westminster Publications Ltd, 06 November 2019), and a regulator or consumer champion, rather than a commercial business (Energy Watchdog Ltd, 20 February 2019).

 

Therefore, when selecting a company or brand name, advertisers should bear in mind that in any ads displaying their name, the name will be subject to the Code, and so they should give an accurate impression of their business on that basis.

 

  • The use of URLs

In some cases, the ASA has ruled that a website’s choice of URL was one of a number of factors that contributed to consumers being misled about a website and the identity of the brand.

 

One advertiser breached the Code because the ASA ruled that the content of the website, along with the choice of URL, implied that it was a pension comparison site, when in fact it was a lead generation site. The ad was therefore deemed to have falsely implied the advertiser was acting for purposes outside of its trade, and did not make clear its commercial intent (Centurius Ltd, 09 October 2019). Another breached the Code because the phrase ‘At our Motorola repair centre…’ misleadingly implied that the website was affiliated with Motorola. The content of the URL address, which included the phrase ‘Motorola phone repairs’, contributed to the misleading impression that the site was officially affiliated with the major brand (Elite Phones and Computers Ltd, 28 August 2019).

 

The ASA investigated another website that had a URL ending in “.co.uk”. The ASA ruled that this choice of URL was one of a number of features related to the website that, combined, gave consumers a misleading impression that the advertisers were based in the UK, alongside prices being listed in GBP and the website stating that the billing address was a UK address (herdress.co.uk, 24 May 2017).

 

The ASA has also commented on the use of URLs in paid-for search results. Because the URLs were included in these ads, they were assessed on the same basis as any other claim.

 

For example, one paid-for search result featured a URL which prominently included ‘Ryanair’ in the address, followed by the advertiser’s company name (eSky). The ad also referenced ‘Ryanair’ prominently elsewhere. Any references to eSky could, in the ASA’s view, be easily overlooked. Due to the prominence of the references to Ryanair, the overall impression created by the ad meant consumers would understand the ad was for Ryanair, rather than the advertiser (eSky.pl SA, 6 September 2023).

 

In 2017, the ASA ruled that a reference to ‘Book Ethiopian Airline’, as well as the similarities between the URLs of the advertiser (a third party travel agency) and Ethiopian Airlines contributed to the impression that the ad was for the official airline website. These factors, together with the absence of information indicating that the ad was for a third party travel agency, led the ASA to conclude that the ad was likely to mislead (Tickets House Ltd, 06 September 2017).

 

Though both of the above examples commented on the impact of the URL address in a paid-for search result, the content of a URL address, and its potential to mislead, could also be considered by the ASA as part of their investigation into other types of ads, such as those in print, poster, or digital form, if a URL was included.

 

  • The overall impression is what counts

Since the ASA assesses ads in their entirety, the inclusion of a disclaimer isn’t necessarily enough to prevent an ad from breaching the Code if the rest of the ad gives consumers a misleading impression.

 

In a number of cases, the ASA has investigated ads that made misleading implied claims about the company’s identity. The ASA noted that these ads contained the genuine company name, but concluded that the inclusion of the company name was not sufficient to counteract the overall misleading impression of the ads.

 

For example, one ad included the genuine company name but still breached the CAP Code because it gave the overall misleading impression that the ad was for British Airways (Top Travel UK Ltd, 31 January 2018).  Similarly, an ad in 2018 included the company name of the advertiser but was found to be misleading, as the ad gave the overall impression that it was an official notice (ACAI Marketing Ltd, 20 December 2017).  Another ad was found to breach the CAP Code due to it misleadingly giving the impression that it was from a public or non-commercial organisation (Smart Pension Ltd, 13 September 2017).

 

See also claims in product names and misleading advertising, for more information.

 

Source: CAP

 

About CAP

The CAP is the sister organisation of the Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) and is responsible for writing the Advertising Codes.

 

Note: This advice is given by the CAP Executive about non-broadcast advertising. It does not constitute legal advice. It does not bind CAP, CAP advisory panels or the ASA. CAP’s AdviceOnline entries provide guidance on interpreting the UK Code of Non-broadcast Advertising and Direct & Promotional Marketing.

 

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