ASA upbraids unregulated employment firm over marketing

Letters: Marketing communications need to be obviously identifiable from the envelope

The Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) has upheld a complaint about marketing material sent by an employment law business that looked like it was from a public body.

The letter from Avensure Ltd, an unregulated company trading as both the Employment Law Advice Bureau and the HR24 Advisory Bureau, was in an envelope with the text ‘Private’ at the top left and ‘Important information’ at the bottom right. It featured a scales of justice logo at the bottom left.

The enclosed letter featured a crest at the top of the letter with the text ‘HR24 Advisory Bureau Stockport & Manchester’, stated ‘Confidential’ above the name and address of the recipient, and ‘Private & Confidential’ with a reference number to the right-hand side.

Large, bold text then stated ‘Government Announcement’, under which it said: “You are invited to attend an important training update for leading business owners in Stockport and Manchester. The government has announced an unprecedented number of new employment law changes for 2024…

“It is essential that you know what amendments are coming (and when) so you can prepare and protect your business. To ensure you are fulfilling your legal obligations, we highly recommend you join us for the ‘2024 Employer Action Plan’ workshop.”

The letter also said that “due to the government announcement, there will be no charge on this occasion”.

The complaint challenged whether the advert was obviously identifiable as a marketing communication and made clear its commercial intent.

Avensure told the ASA that the envelope and letter were marked as they were because the contents were intended for the addressee only.

The ASA recorded: “They believed the use of the ‘scales of justice’ logo on the envelope was not misleading because their business involved justice and there were solicitors and barristers working for the company. The logo was very generic and was used by many different businesses that provided different services.”

It argued that having the company’s logo and name at the top of the letter – and also its details in the footer – ensured recipients would immediately be aware of who it was from.

The wording ‘Government Announcement’ referred to the event on the latest government updates on employment regulations and law, Avensure said.

But the ASA was not persuaded – marketing communications had to be “obviously identifiable as such” from the envelope and here it was not; including Avensure as the return address was not enough.

Heading the letter with ‘Government Announcement’ “implied the mailing was from a public body and contained an official announcement”, an impression reinforced by the statements that the letter was private and confidential, “which was uncommon phrasing in commercial communications”.

While the crest-like logo at the top of the page included the name of HR24 Advisory Bureau, “we considered many recipients would not be aware that this was a trading name of the business Avensure”, as this was only referenced in small print at the bottom.

“We therefore considered it was not clear that the letter was sent by a commercial entity offering a service, but instead implied that it had been sent by a public body.”

The ASA told Avensure that the advert must not appear again in this form and that it must ensure in future that its marketing communications “were obviously identifiable and made clear their commercial intent, including by ensuring that envelopes made clear they contained a marketing communication”.

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