You may recall the recent scandal involving two brothers, Victor and Henry Mears, who promised an "amazing snow-covered Lapland village" to the consumers of Dorset only to deliver, in the words of Judge Mark Horton, "something that looked like an averagely-managed summer car boot sale". Having last month been found guilty on eight charges under The Consumer Protection from Unfair Trading Regulations 2008 (CPRs), all relating to misleading advertising, the brothers have now been jailed for 13 months each. They were also disqualified from being company directors for five years.
This is part of an increasingly tough approach to advertising regulation within the UK. It had been thought that the CPRs lacked teeth, but the Mears prosecution follows the investigation carried out by the Office of Fair Trading last year into promotional blogging. Handpicked Media, a consumer blogging network, had engaged individuals to publish content online which promoted the activities of their clients but did not disclose clearly to consumers that the promotions had been paid for. The OFT felt that this was a "misleading omission" contrary to Regulation 3(4)(b) CPRs. Handpicked Media signed undertakings to comply with the law in order to avoid penalty.
In addition to the robust enforcement of the CPRs, the Committee for Advertising Practice (CAP) code was extended earlier this month to cover marketing communications on an organisation's own website and in all third party web space, including social media. The ASA will now subject promotional tweets, forum posts and claims on your own website to the same scrutiny as newspaper advertising. A surge of complaints to the ASA is likely to follow.
This dramatic increase in the ASA's jurisdiction, and the tough sentences meted out to the Mears brothers, can be seen as part of an increasingly interventionist approach to advertising claims in the UK.