'Time sensitive' Vanquis credit card ad banned

2 July 2014, 13:53   By Julia Kukiewicz

VANQUIS Bank have been ordered not to send out direct mail adverts that look like important documents.

credit card application
Credit: Rawpixel.com/Shutterstock.com

Two people complained to the Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) that they'd been sent letters from Vanquis labelled "TIME SENSITIVE DOCUMENTS ENCLOSED" that turned out to be adverts for the provider's credit cards.

vanquis letter

SOURCE: Blog post from 2011.

Vanquis have been sending out direct mail adverts with exactly this wording for years now, the image above was posted by a blog in 2011, and were even censured by the ASA late last year over a very similar advert.

The previous advert included a 'Speedsure priority mail' sticker which, the complainant pointed out, misleadingly implied that the letter was a recorded delivery (it was not) and that it contained important documents (it actually contained a credit card advert).

Apparently Vanquis have trouble learning from their mistakes. But they may soon get some help with that.

The Financial Conduct Authority (FCA) is in the midst of a review of the credit card market which is likely to clamp down on misleading marketing.

We also considered that the bar code and claim 'TIME SENSITIVE DOCUMENTS ENCLOSED ... Tracked Mail' in particular gave the impression that the documents contained in the envelope were solicited and important.

That's not 'TIME SENSITIVE'...

That will almost certain include adverts like the one banned today, though not if Vanquis get their way.

In their response to the ASA investigation Vanquis said that the 'TIME SENSITIVE' warning wasn't misleading since the envelope also included a Vanquis Bank logo and words 'Marketing Communication Enclosed', on the envelope flap on the reverse.

'TIME SENSITIVE' referred to the time limit for applications set out in the advert, Vanquis added.

This argument didn't cut much ice with the ASA.

"The mailing included the personal name and address of the complainant and the envelope was printed with various logos... which we considered gave the impression of a financial mailing. The ASA also noted that the typeface used for the address appeared similar to that used for bank statements," they said in their judgment.

"The overall impression of the envelope was therefore that of a solicited mailing relating to a financial company to which the recipient had an existing relationship.

Bad credit card adverts

"We also considered that the bar code and claim 'TIME SENSITIVE DOCUMENTS ENCLOSED ... Tracked Mail' in particular gave the impression that the documents contained in the envelope were solicited and important."

Clamping down on direct mail

It is this kind of misleading advertising, but perhaps also all direct mail advertising, that the FCA is looking at in their review.

A recent review into credit cards carried out by Jigsaw research on behalf of the FCA was bluntly, and perhaps surprisingly, negative about advertising.

The qualitative researchers said that many people took out credit cards for no other reason than "multiple, persistent, targeted direct mail sent by credit card companies aimed at consumers. These consumers spoke of receiving several credit card offers a week and admitted that, after months of this, they had finally 'cracked' and decided to apply."

Consumers are 'worn down' into taking credit card they don't need, the researchers said, particularly when application forms arrive pre-filled which, they said, "almost amounts to asking individuals to opt out of having a credit card each time one [form] lands on their doorstep."

When they took over the regulation of the credit card market in April, the FCA noted that they were committed to ensuring that "all advertisements and other promotions must be clear, fair and not misleading".

Part of the new regulator's expanded powers is the ability to ban misleading adverts, a power that has so far been linked most closely to the campaign against showing payday advertising on children's TV.

And on credit cards

Credit card advertising is just at the surface of the FCA's review, however.

The regulator is looking at whether holding credit cards is actually giving consumers many benefits and, as the conclusions of their researchers also strongly suggest, it's likely the answer will be: no.

"On the face of it, yes, there are many brands and organisations to select our cards from... The FCA is asking whether this surface competition is reflected more deeply in the value offered by products," Martin Wheatley, Chief Executive of the FCA said in a speech in April.

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