Advertising Standards Agency rules Heathrow ads claiming “Those living around us are behind us” are misleading
Heathrow Airport has been told by the ASA that its adverts claiming that “Those living around us are behind us”. Eight people had challenged whether the adverts were misleading and if they could be substantiated. The ASA concluded that the claim exaggerated the level of support for expansion, had not been substantiated and was misleading. They noted that the claims “Those living around us are behind us” and “Locals support it” were not qualified. The ASA considered that most readers would interpret the claims to mean that a clear majority of those living in close proximity to Heathrow Airport supported expansion. The evidence provided, however, showed that only 50% of those surveyed from ten constituencies close to the airport supported expansion. The ASA say the ads must not appear in their current form again. They told Heathrow Airport Ltd to ensure they held sufficient evidence to substantiate their objective marketing claims in future, and to ensure their claims were adequately qualified, without contradiction. John Stewart, chair of HACAN, said: “This judgement is not good news for Heathrow. It undermines a key plank of their campaign that they have strong local support for a third runway.” The ASA ruled against other Heathrow ads in February 2015.
ASA Ruling on Heathrow Airport Ltd
Heathrow Airport Ltd
16 September 2015
Transport, Digital outdoor, Internet (social networking)
Holidays and travel
Number of complaints:
Summary of Council decision:
Three issues were investigated, all of which were Upheld.
A billboard poster, digital poster and sponsored ad on a social media site promoted the expansion of Heathrow airport:
a. The billboard poster stated, “Those around us are behind us. More local people support than oppose Heathrow expansion. In a recent poll, 50% of those living around the airport were in favour of expansion and 33% opposed”. Small print at the bottom of the ad stated, “Populus interviewed at least 1000 adult residents (18+) in ten constituencies local to Heathrow Airport by telephone between 19 Nov and 21 Dec 2014. In total 10,006 residents were interviewed. Results were weighted to be demographically representative of all adults in each constituency, and were also weighted by past vote to be politically representative of all adults”.
b. The digital billboard poster stated, “Heathrow expansion Those living around us are behind us”.
c. The sponsored ad stated, “Expansion will add up to £211bn to the UK economy. Locals support it. Britain needs it”. Below there was an image of the United Kingdom, alongside the text “Heathrow Taking Britain further”.
The ASA received eight complaints.
1. Two of the complainants challenged whether the claim “Those around us are behind us” in ad (a) was misleading and could be substantiated.
2. Six of the complainants challenged whether the same claim in ad (b) was misleading and could be substantiated.
3. One the complainants challenged whether the claim “Locals support it” in ad (c) was misleading and could be substantiated.
CAP Code (Edition 12)
1., 2. & 3. Heathrow Airport Ltd said the ads were part of a wider campaign to show that there was a lot of support for the expansion of Heathrow, including from the councils and boroughs that relied on Heathrow for jobs and growth. They said contrary to some people’s perceptions, Chiswick and Richmond were not the only areas affected by Heathrow, but they were the most against expansion and individuals from those communities often believed that their views represented the majority. They said they had commissioned Populus to conduct independent polling, which showed that this perception was incorrect. They provided the poll results and a press release which summarised the key findings. They highlighted that the results showed that 50.46%, a majority of those surveyed, supported expansion, while 33% and 17% opposed expansion, or were unsure, respectively.
Heathrow Airport explained that the poll was limited to ten constituencies for budgetary reasons, and that they had ensured those included were representative of local views. In particular they had focused on those areas that were most impacted by the airport, in terms of noise, and those that were most vocal about the airport’s operations, or had MPs who strongly opposed expansion. They had actively tried to include local constituencies with the highest profile opposition to Heathrow, at the expense of those with lower noise complaints or MPs who endorsed expansion. For example, they had chosen to include Ealing Central and Acton because the local MP at the time was an active opponent of expansion and they received relatively a high number of noise complaints from individuals in the constituency. Further, they had included Uxbridge and South Ruislip after discovering that Boris Johnson had been selected to stand, as he was their highest profile and most vocal opponent. Working with Populus, they had also checked to ensure that the ten constituencies reflected the diverse political, socio-economic, ethnic and geographical nature of the region around Heathrow.
Heathrow Airport also highlighted that, although not referenced in the ad, they had support from the “Back Heathrow” group. They acknowledged that the airport had helped to setup the group, but that its aim was to give a voice to local people who wanted to have their views heard. The group was voluntary, but they were passionate supporters of expansion from the local community, and numbered nearly 80,000.
The ASA noted that the headline claim stated “Those around us are behind us”. We considered that most consumers would understand the headline claim to mean that a clear majority of those surveyed were pro-expansion. While we acknowledged that the survey showed that 50% of respondents were pro-expansion and 50% were against, or neither supported nor opposed, expansion, when rounded to the nearest whole number, we considered that the ad implied that the proportion of locals in favour of support was greater than 50%. Therefore, we considered that the headline claim misleadingly exaggerated the level of support for expansion. Further, while we acknowledged that the body copy explained that 50% of those polled supported expansion and 33% opposed it, we considered that this text contradicted rather than clarified the headline claim.
We noted Heathrow Airport’s comments that they had chosen the ten constituencies that were most negatively impacted by noise, those with the most vocal complainants in terms of noise and those with high profile opponents to expansion. We also noted that the small print at the bottom of the ad provided additional information regarding how, and when, the survey had been carried out, and referred to “ten constituencies local to Heathrow Airport”. In combination with the other references to “local people” and “those around the airport”, we considered that, although they would not know exactly which constituencies the survey related to, in the absence of any additional qualification, most readers would believe they were selected based on their proximity to the airport and included those most directly adjacent to it. Therefore, we considered consumers would interpret the claims to mean that a representative sample of individuals from the ten constituencies closest to Heathrow Airport, in terms of proximity, were pro-expansion. We understood from the data provided, however, that three constituencies that bordered Heathrow’s constituency, Hayes and Harlington, had not been included in the survey and their views not taken into account. Because we had concerns that most readers would interpret the ad to mean that individuals living in the ten constituencies closest to Heathrow Airport, in terms of proximity, were in favour of expansion, and Heathrow had not provided evidence to confirm that that was the case, we considered that the claim had not been substantiated.
For those reasons, we concluded that the claim exaggerated the level of support for expansion, had not been substantiated and was misleading.
Ad (a) breached CAP Code (Edition 12) rules 3.1 (Misleading advertising), 3.7 (Substantiation), and 3.9 (Qualification).
2. & 3. Upheld
We noted that the claims “Those living around us are behind us” and “Locals support it” were not qualified. We considered that most readers would interpret the claims to mean that a clear majority of those living in close proximity to Heathrow Airport supported expansion. The evidence provided, however, showed that only 50% of those surveyed from ten constituencies close to the airport supported expansion. In addition, as noted in point 1. above, three constituencies that were adjacent to Heathrow’s constituency, and therefore “local” to the airport, had not been included in the survey. Therefore, we concluded that the claims exaggerated the level of support for expansion, that they had not been substantiated and were misleading.
Ads (b) and (c) breached CAP Code (Edition 12) rules 3.1 (Misleading advertising), 3.7 (Substantiation) and 3.9 (Qualification).
The ads must not appear in their current form again. We told Heathrow Airport Ltd to ensure they held sufficient evidence to substantiate their objective marketing claims in future, and to ensure their claims were adequately qualified, without contradiction.
Advertising Standards Authority finds Heathrow advert about increased trade breaches their code and is ‘misleading’
In October 2014 about 13 people send in official complaints to the Advertising Standards Authority, on claims being made by Heathrow in its adverts. The ASA looked at 7 different complaints, and considered that 6 passed their standards. However, on the claim by Heathrow in its ads headed:”Expand Heathrow and its’s the economy that takes off” the statement “Direct flights to long-haul destinations build twenty times more trade with them than indirect flights” was found to breach the ASA code. The ASA say the claim was not adequately substantiated and that the ad therefore breached the Code, both by being misleading and by not having proper substantiation. The ASA say the advert “must not appear again in its current form.” They have told Heathrow “to ensure that they held robust substantiation for absolute claims made in their future advertising.” The ASA ruling also says the claim was presented as objective facts rather than an educated assumption and that Heathrow’s own report “One Hub or None”itself cautioned that direct flights would not automatically lead to more trade and that multiple factors could influence the amount of bilateral trade.
And another set of adverts was considered by the ASA,but they did not rule against them:
Does Heathrow advert implying a small girl needs a 3rd runway, for her future, meet Advertising Standards?
The ASA now say:
“….the investigation had been delayed due to some new points being raised by additional complainants. Since then another couple of issues have been added to the investigation, meaning that we have had to again engage in further discussion with the advertiser.
“However, we have now received Heathrow’s response on all points, including the newest ones. We are currently in the process of drawing up the documents for the next stage of the case, and hope that we may be able to send these out [to those who submitted complaints] by the end of the month.”
…. and they say “… the issues around advertising claims of this nature are complex and our investigation will necessarily take some time” …. and they are working to address the concerns of the many people who complained as promptly as they are able.
The Heathrow advert
Earlier this week, Heathrow put out full page advertisements for their 3rd runway. This is part of an on-going, and expensive media campaign. However, they may have mis-judged the tone of this one. It features a small girl, aged about 5, with her hand up – and the text makes out that her future well being will depend upon ….. guess what?? …. a new Heathrow runway. The advert says the 3rd runway will deliver “… at least£100 billion of economic benefits [no timescale given] the length and breadth of the country. …. So, even if our little girl never leaves home, she’ll still feel the benefit.” People may have been inspired to write to the Advertising Standards Authority, to complain about this rather dubious text, with unsubstantiated claims, making use of a small child, to try to make a PR point. One such letter to the ASA has been copied to AirportWatch, in which the writer clearly puts the case that what this child needs is a stable climate for her future, not accelerating carbon emissions. The writer believes the advert to be misleading, and asks the ASA to have it withdrawn. There is now an Avaaz petition to the ASA on this ad.