Timeshare ad ruled ‘misleading by omission’
The ASA has confirmed it has banned a TV ad by ITRA, the International Timeshare Refund Action group.
Viewers, the shared ownership trade body RDO (Resort Development Organisation) and TATOC (the consumer-led timeshare organisation) contacted the ASA to say they believed the ITRA TV commercial was misleading to consumers.
The TV Ad
The television ad stated in both voiceover and on-screen text, "Unhappy timeshare owners? Have your maintenance fees risen again this year? Are you having problems getting a fair exchange? If so, you can join our no win, no fee refund claim," followed by a call-in phone number.
The challenge was whether the claim that ITRA was involved in the legal action was misleading and could be substantiated. Those who filed complaints told ASA they were under the understanding that viewers responding to the ad were offered other, unrelated services by ITRA. ASA has banned the ad from being broadcast again in its current form and has ruled the ad "misleading by omission" as it did not mention a Club Class holidays product that it sold, as an alternative to timeshare, to consumers who responded to the ad.
As Britain’s official advertising watchdog, ASA aims "to ensure that consumers do not just enjoy the ads they see, but they can trust them too." Its website says, "We build trust by enforcing the Advertising Codes written by the Committee of Advertising Practice and acting swiftly when marketing communications break the rules."
Every week ASA makes decisions across a wide range of sectors, including banning ads, to help ensure that the vast majority of ads in the media are "legal, decent, honest and truthful".
ITRA responded by saying they had been using the ad since 2008 and had not received any complaints from viewers responding to it. They said they had been working since 2007, when they first consulted lawyers, to prepare the ground for legal proceedings against the timeshare industry.
ITRA added that the four main areas of complaint were: getting a fair exchange, high management fees, financial arrangements and the difficulty in selling or disposing of timeshares. They had been gathering evidence for possible claims and launched the TV ads in 2008 to find suitable candidates for litigation. By 2009 they had found enough potential claimants to take on, on a "no win, no fee" basis.
When viewers consulted with ITRA they were offered the opportunity to buy another product – from ITRA’s main sponsor, Club Class , who provided a wide range of holiday and lifestyle options as an alternative to timeshare. Half the attendees who met with ITRA bought the Club Class product.
The ASA, however, was concerned about the fact that "respondents to the ad were also offered the opportunity to purchase another product that had not been mentioned in the ad", and judged that the ad had "been designed to sell another product as well and this objective should have been made clear in the ad."
ASA also noted that the Club Class holiday product was bought by a significantly greater number of people that were able to take up involvement in the potential litigation. ASA ruled that the ad contravened certain advertising regulations, saying, "We considered that, because the ad did not make clear that it was offering another product in addition to the opportunity to join the legal action, it was misleading by omission."
ASA ruled that the TV ad cannot be broadcast again in its current form.
The details of the ASA adjudication can be viewed here