Another interesting ASA ruling has emerged on advertising by estate agents.

The ASA recently reprimanded an agent for two specific advertising claims. First, they had asserted that they were the market leader having sold more properties in 2017 in a specific postcode district than any other area. Second, they asserted that they had offices in 12 locations and made specific reference to a branch in Poulton.

In relation to the first claim the ASA held this was a misleading statement. The agent had shown a Rightmove report of sales for 2017 but the ASA considered that this was not the only route for sales and there was no data for any other agent which allowed a comparison to be made. In addition, the report only showed agreed sales and not those that had moved to exchange and completion. Accordingly, the ASA considered that the statement that the agent was the “market leader” could not be substantiated and was misleading.

In relation to the branch, it transpired that this was not a branch office as such but a small serviced office with a receptionist who would help customers. The ASA considered that a branch meant a fully operational branch with appropriate people with expertise of and knowledge in the local sales market. A receptionist in a serviced office who would essentially be limited to taking contact details did not meet that test and so the claim was misleading.

It is really important in advertising to make sure that there is a clear distinction between a statement which might be characterised as “mere puffery”, legitimate exaggeration in other words, and a more specific claim which requires to be proved. Claiming that you are a leading agent in an area is probably acceptable as long as you are not near the bottom. Claiming to be the “market leader” is going to need some clear supporting evidence.

Too often, agents think that they can make almost any claim they wish in advertising. This is a common misconception among smaller businesses who may carry out their own marketing work in-house. It is really important to remember that there are real limits on what can be said in an advert. At the lowest level this can lead to stern letters and embarrassment before the ASA. At worst, fines and other sanctions.