Regulation 

Advice firm under fire for Google ads

Advice firm under fire for Google ads

A debt advice firm has been told off by the Advertising Standards Authority for two paid-for Google ads that suggested it had links to Citizens Advice.

The adverts that appeared in July 2018, for advice-debts.com, stated: "Citizens Advice UK… Free Debt Help… advice-debts.com" and "Citizens Debt Advice… Write Off Over £4,000 of Debts… advice-debts.com".

Citizens Advice South Warwickshire challenged whether the adverts were misleading because they implied that the company was associated with Citizens Advice.

A spokesman for DebtHelp4Me Ltd, which trades as advice-debts.com, said the use of "Citizens Advice UK" and "Citizens Debt Advice" in the headline of the ads was to improve their quality score so the ads would appear more and they would pay less per click.

The spokesman said the adverts and the landing page on their website to which they linked did not suggest that advice-debts.com were Citizens Advice.

They said that the communication had been created from an option from Google AdWords that automatically inserted the user’s keyword text into the headline.

The spokesman for Advice-debts.com argued the claim "Citizens Debt Advice" did not take advantage of a trademark as "Citizens Debt Advice" was not a registered trademark of Citizens Advice.

They further argued that Citizens Debt Advice was an accurate reflection of the service offered, because Advice-debts.com provided debt advice services for UK citizens and that "Citizens Debt Advice" was simply three words of which two were from the trademarked term.

The argued that in that context those two words were not mentioned together and were not misleading.

But the Advertising Standards Authority ruled consumers would be likely to associate the terms "Citizens Advice UK" and "Citizens Debt Advice" with Citizens Advice.

A spokesman for the ASA said: "Although advice-debts.com had told us that the ad was generated through an option on Google AdWords that inserted user text into the headline based on user searches, we noted that advertisers had full control over the wording of the headline and sub-heading texts of their ads.

"Although we acknowledged that the website URL and the text below the headlines did not further mention Citizens Advice, we considered that consumers viewing the ad would be likely to understand that when clicking through from the ad they would be taken to the Citizens Advice website or to a debt advice company that was associated with Citizens Advice.

"Because that was not the case, we concluded that the use of the terms 'Citizens Advice UK' and 'Citizens Debt Advice' in the ads were misleading."

emma.hughes@ft.com