Spicerhaart rapped again by watchdog over 'handwritten' notes

Spicerhaart rapped again by watchdog over 'handwritten' notes

Spicerhaart has found itself in hot water with the advertising watchdog. Once again, the problem was caused by a touting flyer, using what looks like handwriting.

It sent out five mailings, all intended for sellers who had their properties with other agents. With the heading IMPORTANT CONTACT INFORMATION FOR THE HOME SELLER, the mailings told the recipients in a handwritten style font to contact ‘Lesley Miller’ at their local branch as soon as possible, or as a matter of urgency.

It emerged that three of the sellers did not even have their homes on the market.

The Advertising Standards Authority said the mailshots could have been upsetting both for people with their homes on the market with other agents, and for people who were not selling.

The mailings, from five separate branches, drew five complaints including one from another estate agent, and raised three issues. The ASA upheld the complaints.

Each mailing consisted of an envelope with a compliments slip for a local Spicerhaart firm inside. The wording typically said: “Call me ASAP about the sale of your home? Many thanks Lesley Miller.”

One mailing was sent out by haart in Camberwell Green; another by Darlows Llanishen; a third by haart’s Leagrave branch; a fourth by haart’s Swindon branch; and the fifth by haart Plymouth branch.

All five complainants challenged whether the adverts were obviously identifiable as marketing communications.

Matthews Estate Agents and three members of the public also challenged whether the adverts were likely to cause undue distress, particularly to the vulnerable and the elderly, because they implied that the properties to which they were sent were for sale or that problems had arisen with ongoing sales.

Matthews Estate Agents and two members of the public additionally challenged whether three of the adverts misleadingly implied that ‘Lesley Miller’ was based at the branches referenced in the adverts.

Spicerhaart told the ASA that it would have clear that the letters were marketing communications. They said they had made amendments following previous ASA adjudications on similar mailings, and had put procedures in place to ensure that advice was sought from the Committee of Advertising Practice’s Copy Advice team before adverts were published.

They highlighted that the ads were sent in branded envelopes and gave a business return address on the back, and said the Copy Advice team had previously approved envelopes of that type. They said each envelope would also have had business mail franking as opposed to being stamped. The front of the compliment slips were heavily branded, with the logo clearly displayed together with the business name, address of the local branch and website.

The firm also told the ASA that the said the adverts were intended to be sent to recipients whose properties were currently being marketed for sale by other agents. Such properties were usually identified by the presence of a ‘For Sale’ board, and addresses for those properties were added to a list operated by the local branch.

A central department then used those lists to send marketing communications to listed properties.

However, three of the properties where the mailing was sent were not for sale. They had apologised and said the addresses had been removed from their marketing lists, and steps had been taken to reiterate to branches the importance of ensuring the lists were up to date.

The company also confirmed that Lesley Miller was not physically based at the branches referred to. Ms Miller was their new business manager based at their head office in Colchester. They said they did not agree that the reference to her in the adverts implied that she was based at all the relevant branches.

They acknowledged that the adverts listed the addresses of local branches, but said they made no express reference to Ms Miller being based at the branches, nor did they assert that she held any particular role at the branches. They said that calls to the phone numbers on the adverts went through to Ms Miller and her team, who were first contact for queries arising from the adverts.

The ASA noted that in 2009 and 2010 it had ruled that similar mailings by haart were not obviously identifiable as marketing communications because they did not make clear their commercial interest in the recipients’ property.

In 2011, however, it considered that a haart mailing was obviously identifiable as a marketing communication because handwritten text on the compliment slip stated “We would love to help you sell your home” and therefore their commercial interest in the recipients’ property was made clear.

However, in the latest instance, the ASA said it was not clear that the agent had a commercial interest in the recipients’ property. It was not clear that the mailings were obviously marketing communications.

The ASA also felt that the mailings conveyed a sense of urgency and were likely to cause distress without justifiable reason to people both in the process of selling their home through other agents, and also to recipients who were not selling their homes.

For example, a private tenant who received the mailing might have thought the landlord had put the property on the market; and someone vulnerable or elderly might have thought someone was attempting to sell the property without their knowledge.

Finally, the ASA said that the adverts were misleading in relation to Lesley Miller, as recipients would have thought she was based at their local branch.

The adverts have been banned.