A mailshot looking like a personal, handwritten note has landed Haart estate agents in trouble with the Advertising Standards Authority.
Haart will now have to stop using the mailshots, after sending out thousands.
A recipient complained to the ASA saying it was misleading and caused her distress, as she did not realise that it came from an estate agent who was interested in selling her home. Inside the apparently hand-written envelope was a Haart compliments slip which also appeared to be hand-written and which said: “Re: Your home. Please call me as a matter of urgency.”
The ASA in its ruling published today said that Haart must not use such marketing material again.
The compliments slip – from a Lesley Miller – included small print which said: “haart is a trading name of Spicerhaart Limited ... If you have instructed another agent on a sole and / or selling rights basis, the terms of those instructions must be considered to avoid a possible liability to pay two commissions.”
However, the recipient said she did not realise until she called one of the two numbers given that she had been sent marketing material.
Haart told the ASA that the mailing was sent only to consumers whose property was being actively marketed in areas where Haart had a branch.
They said a significant number of consumers who were sent the mailings did not object, because they had subsequently instructed Haart to sell their property.
They had received a very low level of negative feedback, having sent out thousands of the mailings. However, they would make changes to the envelope.
Haart also said the mailing was not intended to mislead consumers and pointed out that the compliments slip included the Haart logo and strapline as well as the small print warning.
Haart did, however, say it was regrettable that the complainant had been alarmed by the use of “ ... as a matter of urgency ...” but did not believe the mailshot would distress the majority of recipients.
But whilst the ASA noted that the compliments slip displayed the Haart logo and branding, the envelope had a postage stamp and did not include any branding. Text on both the letter and envelope appeared to be hand-written.
The ASA considered it was not immediately apparent that the mailing was a marketing communication and the hand-written appearance of the text was likely to give the impression that a note had been prepared specifically for the recipient.
The ASA concluded that the mailing was misleading and likely to cause distress.
A statement from Haart said: "We’ve taken on board the ASA’s ruling and have amended our advertising accordingly.
"We were surprised to learn that one recipient had expressed concern as we have sent out thousands of these mailers without any other negative reaction."