Don't be misleading - agents warned over advertising
Advertising your agency - be it online or through more traditional print channels - is crucial when it comes to growing your business.
At a time when there are more estate and letting agents than ever before, the advertising space has become crowded and property firms are implementing bold strategies to try and stand out.
With stakes raised, some agents - unintentionally or not - have on certain occasions not been entirely transparent or clear with their marketing messaging and this is an issue that has started to receive more attention.
Currently, the Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) monitors agents' advertising and investigates where necessary. And, just last month, the National Trading Standards Estate Agency Team (NTSEAT) - which took over from the Office of Fair Trading in spring 2014 - waded into the debate and issued a strong warning to agents.
In summary: NTSEAT's warning
The warning from NTSEAT was issued following the ASA's decision to uphold a complaint made against Purplebricks' advertising.
Making sure that advertising claims are 'accurate' and 'truthful' is the headline statement put forward in the warning.
James Munro, the Head of the NTSEAT, goes on to explain that agents must be wary of making unsubstantiated claims about selling fees.
He says that agents of differing models - either online or high street - must be careful when making comparisons which aren't 'like for like'.
The warning also advises agents to be clear when explaining the different types of fees they are charging - whether they are fixed, commission-based, upfront and so on.
What should agents take from this?
- If you are making comparisons with other agents or business models - they must be 'like-for-like'.
- Be wary about making 'general' claims which relate to headline figures and could be deemed misleading.
- If you can't substantiate the claims you are making in your advertising with evidence, they will need revising.
- When promoting your offering, you may need to explain the services that will be provided - particularly for 'cheaper' packages.
- If you are advertising fees, it must be made clear to the consumer what they will need to pay and when
Recent misleading advertising cases
Over the last few years, there have been several cases where the ASA has upheld complaints made against agents' advertising. Quite commonly, however, complaints are 'informally resolved' if the agency agrees to amend their advert after being contacted by the authority.
Here are three of the most recent high-profile examples of complaints being upheld by the ASA:
- July 2017 - Purplebricks. The hybrid agency was told it could no longer advertise reviews on its website which included fees savings claims made against high street agents.
- July 2017 - Yorkshire's Finest. This estate agency was banned from using an advertisement which suggested it had a physical office when in reality it does not.
- June 2017 - Pink and Cow. The ASA banned the Portsmouth agency from using advertising claims made on its website which suggested that its 0.5% sales offering included accompanied viewings.
Advertising is valuable but approach with caution
These days, agents' scope for advertising their services is very wide, ranging from print and television, to radio and now social media.
As the number of agents' adverts across different mediums has increased, so has the need to be careful about the claims you are making.
Taking note from the above, the golden rule is that if you can't substantiate the claims you are making with relevant evidence - don't use them.
Your local competition, the ASA, eagle-eyed consumers and now the NTSEAT are all watching agents' claims closely as advertising comes under more scrutiny than ever before.
The right campaign could have huge benefits for your business, but you must approach all aspects of marketing with caution.
You don't want to get caught out, nor have to deal with the negative PR – and potential financial implications - if one of your adverts is investigated or banned by the authorities.