Three Facebook ads which used images of MoneySavingExpert.com founder Martin Lewis broke advertising rules and misleadingly implied Martin was endorsing the companies' services and products, the advertising watchdog has ruled.
The Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) said the ads breached three rules in the Committee of Advertising Practice code, including rule 3.1 stating marketing must not "materially mislead or be likely to do so".
The ads were produced by two separate companies – one offering financial advice, the other PPI claims management. They'd already been withdrawn before today's ASA ruling, and the watchdog has banned them from appearing again in the same form.
The ruling is the latest development in our ongoing battle to stop companies using the name or image of Martin or MoneySavingExpert.com without permission.
Martin: 'I want this to send a message'
Martin Lewis, founder of MoneySavingExpert.com, said: "I want this to send a message to any company or firm trying to use my or MoneySavingExpert's name and reputation to imply a false endorsement – we will use every avenue and resource to take you on and make sure people aren't parting with their hard earned cash due to a false impression.
"Be under no illusion the real problem here is Facebook. It accepts these adverts with seemingly no care, attention or quality threshold. It allows everyone and anyone, including criminal scammers from overseas, to advertise on its site. Then, even though it's taking their shilling, it takes no responsibility, leaving the burden on someone like me whose image is being ripped off, or on vulnerable people being scammed, to fight it.
"As Facebook isn't an advertiser, the ASA can't rule against it. There is a gap in the rules in this country. It's about time Facebook took its duties as a paid publisher seriously and faced consequences, as so many times it has breached them.
"Yet for now, I want to spread the word that I don't advertise financial products on Facebook and I don't endorse anyone else's adverts. So if you see my name or picture in a post, especially paid-for ones, be extremely wary – it's at best a false endorsement and at worst a scam."
What did the ads say?
The first advert, a paid-for Facebook ad for Sterling Partnership Ltd, which offers financial advice including specialist advice on investments and pensions, featured an image of Martin and said: "Get the Latest Money Saving Tips & Advice."
The other two adverts were for claims company Civil Claim Services Ltd. Both were Facebook posts – one paid-for, one not – and included images taken from an interview with Martin overlaid with text that said "Finally a PPI reclaim company you can trust" in quote marks.
Martin has no connection with either company and had not endorsed either of them.
The ASA rulings state that both adverts were seen on Facebook in May 2017.
What did the companies say?
According to the ASA ruling, Sterling Partnership Ltd said its ad was withdrawn "as soon as the error was uncovered" and had not been used since.
Civil Claim Services told the ASA its ads have since been removed from its Facebook page and could not be accessed by consumers.
Regarding the paid ad, Civil Claim Services argued it had "in no way claimed that Mr Lewis endorsed" its services, and said the ad included text stating: "We are in no way recommended by Martin Lewis or the BBC – we are merely using images freely available in line with current legislation to reinforce the deadline message."
What did the ASA decide?
The ASA said the images in all three ads were likely to be understood by consumers to mean that Martin Lewis had endorsed the advertisers' service or product.
- Regarding the Sterling Partnership Ltd ad, the ASA said: "The lack of any other information that gave context to the use of the image implied Martin Lewis had specifically endorsed Sterling Partnership Ltd... We therefore concluded that the ad was misleading."
- On the Civil Claim Services ads, the ASA said: "These particular ads gave the overall impression that Martin Lewis had endorsed Civil Claim Services. Further, while we acknowledged the advertiser had used a disclaimer in small text [on the paid-for ad], we did not think that undermined the overall impression, particularly given the prominence of the image and the overlaid text. We therefore concluded that the ads were misleading."
The ASA ruled all three adverts must not appear again in their current form, and told both companies they should ensure "they did not imply their service had been endorsed by any specific individual unless that was the case".
Robert Peck, director of the Sterling Partnership Ltd, said: "We offer our apologies, it was completely unintentional... It won't happen again."
A spokesperson for Civil Claim Services said: "As a highly regulated claims company, with an unrivalled reputation for providing a much-needed service, we wholeheartedly welcome this ASA ruling.
"The post involved in this ASA ruling was removed as soon as it was identified, far in advance of any ASA involvement. After a thorough investigation we have unfortunately put it down to overenthusiasm on the part of one of our social media apprentices for which we apologise unreservedly."
A Facebook spokesperson said: "Adverts which are misleading, false or infringe on third-party rights are in violation of Facebook's ads policies, and we remove them as soon as we become aware of them. The ads that were previously reported to us by Martin Lewis have been removed and the relevant accounts disabled.
"We clearly publish what advertising is and isn't acceptable on Facebook through our advertising policies and we recently announced that we're adding a further 3,000 extra people to our global team of reviewers to ensure we can respond to reports as quickly as possible."