A web design company recently fell foul of the UK Code of Non Broadcast Advertising, Sales Promotion and Direct Marketing (‘the Code’) for a marketing practice that seems to be on the rise, particularly with online businesses.

According to 121 Web Design & Stuff’s website, the company had won ‘Best Low Cost Web Design Company – Web Design Review Awards’ in 2013, 2014, 2015 and 2016, which, to the unknowing consumer, clearly attributes a certain reputation and achievement history to the company’s services.

However, the claim was challenged, the allegation being that Web Design Review was, in fact, owned by the same company as 121 Web Design & Stuff (‘121’) and, therefore, the reviews and resulting awards were essentially fabricated and likely to materially mislead consumers as to the quality or otherwise of 121’s services.

The Advertising Standards Authority considered that consumers would generally expect, when awards were referenced, that the awards had been received from an independent, impartial body. On investigation, it was understood that the awarding body, WebDesignReview.co.uk, was part of the same group of companies as 121, and it was noted that the Web Design Review Awards were only awarded to companies linked to 121. Therefore, the awards were considered neither independent nor impartial.

Accordingly, the ad was found to be misleading, in contravention of ‘the Code’, and must not appear in its current form again.

‘Fake review sites’ are becoming more and more common within industries such as software, web hosting and the like. 121 specifically commented that it did not believe there was anything wrong with creating a site to rate its own businesses, and, unfortunately, until consumer’s general reliance on such reviews wanes, it will remain tempting for companies to continue the practice.