The Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) has investigated complaints made about funeral services. Among those investigations have been issues of advertisers’ descriptions of their businesses as independent, family-owned or family-run. Others have consisted of misleading claims – including environmental claims and not making the nature of the business clear.
Pre-paid funeral plans are regulated by the Financial Conduct Authority (FCA). The Committee of Advertising Practice (CAP) Code applies to financial marketing communications that are not regulated by the FCA and marketers should seek legal advice on any technical elements of marketing communications for FCA regulated pre-paid funeral plans. The CAP Code does, however, regulate “non-technical” aspects of financial marketing communications, such as matters relating to serious or widespread offence, social responsibility and the truthfulness of claims that do not relate to specific characteristics of financial products, which are likely to be within the ASA’s remit.
- Claims of being ‘Independent’ or ‘Family owned’
It is possible that these claims will be seen by consumers at a time many of whom will be relatively vulnerable following bereavement and so it is important to indicate to consumers, that the advertiser can provide a personal touch or level of understanding that might be perceived as lacking from a large corporation. To be able to describe their business as independent, marketers should be able to demonstrate that they are legally separate from other funeral services or chains.
In 2005, the ASA ruled that a funeral home could not be described as an independent business, because it was owned by a company that ran 43 other funeral homes (The Fairways Partnership Ltd, 23 February 2005). In 2012, the ASA concluded that it was acceptable for a funeral home to claim it was “independent” (Richard Steel & Partners Ltd, 16 May 2012). The company was owned by Steel Allery Ltd, which was owned by Richard Steel, Ian Steel and Mark Allery. Because there were no shareholders other than Mark Allery and the Steel family (who were actively involved in the day to day running of the company) and because Richard Steel & Partners Ltd was a separate legal entity, the ASA concluded the advertiser was “independent” and “family owned”. Interestingly, other funeral homes in which Steel Allery had controlling shares were judged as being unable to claim “independent” because they were seen as part of a bigger group of funeral homes (Michael Miller & Partners Ltd, 23 March 2011 and Nigel Chamberlain & Partners Ltd, 16 March 2011). A similar decision was reached on another funeral director because Richard and Ian Steel held the majority of voting shares so, while the Steel family did not ‘control’ the company, the ASA ruled it could not be described as “independent” (A H Cheater Ltd, 16 March 2011).
Marketers should remember that just because they satisfy other organisations’ assessment criteria of “independent”, they cannot use the claim with impunity. Two of the above advertisers were found to have misleadingly implied they were independent by incorporating the logo of the Selected Independent Funeral Homes (SIFH) (Michael Miller & Partners Ltd, 23 March 2011 and Nigel Chamberlain & Partners Ltd, 16 March 2011).
The term “family-owned” essentially asserts independence on the basis of that family ownership (see Richard Steel & Partners Ltd, 16 May 2012 in which two relatives owned the majority of the shareholding). Marketers should distinguish between “family-run”, which refers to the day-to-day consumer face of the business, and “family-owned”, which implies independent family ownership; the ASA has drawn a distinction between those terms. In the case of Michael Miller and Partners Ltd, 23 March 2011, it rejected a complaint about the claims “family funeral directors” and “a family run business” on the grounds that they implied a family managed the business on a day-to-day basis. Because the business was operated and managed by three members of the Miller family, and because the ads did not claim that the business was owned by the Miller family, the ASA considered the ad was unlikely to mislead.
- Avoid misleading claims
Several funeral marketers have had complaints upheld against them because they have stated or implied they own (as opposed to merely offer via a third party) a masonry service. We understand it is common practice for funeral directors to provide advice and procurement of monumental masonry but marketers should avoid implying they have their own masons if that is not the case (Michael Miller & Partners Ltd, 23 March 2011; Nigel Chamberlain & Partners Ltd, 16 March 2011 and A H Cheater Ltd, 16 March 2011).
As always, marketers should hold evidence for claims capable of objective substantiation (Rule 3.7). As well as those already mentioned, they include claims such as “established 1957”, “Serving the community since 1860”, “40 years of experience” and “the oldest independent family business in Uckfield” (The Traditional Family Funeral Company, 23 February 2005, and The Fairways Partnership Ltd, 23 February 2005).
- Environmental claims
With the current focus on the environment, some advertisers will wish to make environmental claims, however, it is important that claims should not exaggerate the environmental claims. Two funeral companies were previously found to breach the Code by making claims such as “Environmentally friendly” (Greenfield Creations Ltd, 13 June 2012) and “No carbon bartprint” (JC Atkinson & Son Ltd, 12 November 2008). The CAP Code has a section that deals with any environmental claims and so advertisers should refer to Section 11 when making such claims.
- Make nature of business clear
Ads must not mislead by implying that they offer a service when in fact that is not the case. The ASA investigated a web page which stated “Easily compare quotes from UK’s top funeral plan providers, plans start from as little as £7.87/Week…COMPARE QUOTES FROM UK’S TOP FUNERAL PLAN PROVIDERS”. However the customer was only offered one quote after completing details on line. The ASA did not see any evidence that quotes were compared and so the claim was misleading as it did not appear that the business was a comparison site. (Adiko Advertising Ltd t/a FindGreatQuotes.com, 23 May 2018)
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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