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ASA BANS SHELL FUELSAVE ADVERTISING FALSE CLAIMS

Action

Ad (a) must not appear again in its current form. Ad (b) must not be broadcast again in its current form. We told Shell to ensure that they held adequate substantiation for their advertising claims in future.


Shell UK Ltd

Shell Centre
London
SE1 7NA

Date:

19 October 2011

Media:

Radio, Direct mail

Sector:

Business

Number of complaints:

3

Complaint Ref:

A11-154707

A direct mailing and a radio ad for fuel:

a. The direct mailing, sent in early March 2011, was headed “Our scientists have developed a regular fuel to help you save”. Further text stated “The scientists at Shell are committed to creating fuels that improve your fuel economy. Their latest fuels – Shell FuelSave Unleaded and Diesel – are designed to help you save fuel and money. These advanced fuels each have a special formula enriched with a Shell Efficiency Improver combined with a special detergent package – designed to improve your fuel economy from the very first fill. And of course you’ll collect one point for every litre you buy”. Next to the text was an image of a man dressed in a lab coat holding a full 1 litre measuring glass, with text on it that stated “SAVE UP TO 1 LITRE PER TANK* AT NO EXTRA COST”.

Small print stated “*Based on a minimum tank size and fill up of 50 litres. Comparison between a standard gasoline and that same standard gasoline containing our instantaneous fuel economy formula; urban cycle comparison between a standard diesel and that same standard diesel containing our instantaneous fuel economy formula. Actual savings may vary according to vehicle, driving conditions and driving style”.

b. The radio ad, broadcast throughout April 2011 stated, “At the Shell lab, our scientists can help you save up to one litre per tank at no extra cost. Here’s how it works: 1. Pull up at Shell. 2. Fill up with Shell FuelSave Regular Unleaded, our fuel economy formula. 3. Pay our everyday price for regular unleaded. 4. That’s it. Try Shell FuelSave Regular Unleaded today and see how much you can save. Based on a minimum tank size and fill-up of 50 litres. Comparison against standard petrol. Savings may vary according to vehicle, driving conditions and driving style.”

Issue

Three complainants challenged whether the claims in ads (a) and (b) that Shell FuelSave could save up to one litre per tank were misleading, because they believed they exaggerated the benefits available.

CAP Code (Edition 12)

BCAP Code

Response

Shell said that the claim referred to both the Regular Unleaded and Regular Diesel versions of the Shell FuelSave fuel. They said that for both fuels, the claim that consumers could save up to one litre per 50 litre fill-up was based on a fuel economy savings figure of 2%. They provided summaries of test data to substantiate the 2% savings figure, and said that both fuels had been tested using industry standard fuel economy measurements.

Shell said that, from a scientific perspective, most cars in the UK had the potential to save fuel by using petrol which contained a Friction Modifier, or diesel which contained a Combustion Improver, such as the Shell petrol and diesel FuelSave fuels. They said that was based on the ability of a Friction Modifier to reduce friction in petrol engines and of Combustion Improvers to reduce ignition delay in diesel engines. They said both of those phenomena were well known and accepted throughout the global fuel science and automotive engineering community.

They said that, for the unleaded fuel, five models of saloon car were tested, and the cars chosen covered a cross-section of car types, brands, engine technologies and configurations, and mileages, which were representative of cars in the UK. They said that one of the models tested was not available in the UK. However, the data for that car was still an important contribution to the data set because the engine technology was the same in other car models of the same make that were available in the UK.

Shell said the substantiation showed that 60% of the cars tested achieved fuel savings of 2% or more, and that in their view the test findings indicated that the 2% benefit was potentially available to the majority of UK motorists. Shell said the unleaded fuel had also been tested in on-road vehicle testing in the UK. They said that over six of seven routes, cars fuelled with FuelSave used less fuel, in one instance measuring a saving of almost 3%. They said that there would always be uncontrolled variables in such tests that would make the outcome unpredictable, but the balance in favour of FuelSave was persuasive.

Shell said that, for the diesel fuel, four cars of different makes which reflected the principal engine technologies and engine configurations available in the UK were tested. The cars had mileages relevant to the UK market and each vehicle had a different engine size. The cars were tested on two cycles: an urban cycle at speeds of up to 30mph and an extra-urban cycle at speeds of up to 70mph. They said they believed that the substantiation for the diesel fuel showed that in the urban test cycle, up to a maximum saving of 2% could be achieved.

Shell said their test methodology, where a concentrated fleet of representative vehicles underwent extensive, multiple, repeat tests, ensured very high quality data and allowed fuel economy benefits to be detected at statistically significant levels. They said their methodology was consistent with that of the inter-industry body Conservation of Clean Air and Water in Europe (CONCAWE), which carried out research on environmental issues relevant to the oil industry on behalf of most oil companies operating in Europe. They said CONCAWE’s methodology had been used as compelling evidence for establishing and revising European Parliament Directives covering petrol and diesel specifications across Europe, and in joint studies with the European Council for Automotive Research and Development (EUCAR) and the European Commission’s Joint Research Centre (JRC). They listed six test reports from those organisations which they said had all used a small number of vehicles, tested using a robust methodology. They said that approach was consistent with Shell’s approach and therefore Shell’s approach was consistent with best practice across the industry.

Shell said that the relevance to UK drivers of the cars tested for each fuel had been calculated using data from The Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders (SMMT), which they provided. The data included all cars registered in the UK between 1999 and 2010 (the UK car ‘parc’), and divided those cars into nine ‘segments’, which related to a vehicle’s engine size and body length, for example, ‘mini’, ‘lower medium’, ‘upper medium’, ‘luxury’ and ‘4×4/SUV’. Shell said the data also showed that the average age of a car in the UK was seven years, and therefore data about cars registered over the past 11 years was representative of the UK car parc, both statistically and technologically. They added that it was common for the same engine to be used in a number of different vehicle makes and models, and provided a list of vehicles which used the same engines as those they had tested. They said the lists showed that the vehicles tested represented a range of vehicles within the same segments as the vehicles tested.

Shell said that the four vehicles that were tested using the petrol FuelSave and which were available in the UK fell into the ‘lower medium’ and ‘upper medium’ segments, which together represented 47% of the UK car parc. The fifth car fell into the ‘4×4/SUV’ segment, which represented 6.3% of the UK car parc. Of the two cars which showed a fuel saving of 2% or better, one fell into the ‘lower medium’ segment and the other into the ‘upper medium’ segment.

Shell said the four vehicles tested using the diesel FuelSave fell into the ‘lower medium’, ‘upper medium’ and ‘executive’ segments, which together represented 52% of the UK car parc. The only car which showed a fuel saving of 2% or better fell into the ‘upper medium’ category, which constituted 18% of the UK car parc.

Shell said that they understood that, where advertisers made “up to” claims, the ASA expected them to be able to substantiate that 10% of consumers were able to realise the maximum claimed benefit. They said the substantiation showed that both the Unleaded and Diesel FuelSave fuels achieved the maximum 2% saving more than 10% of the time in the tested vehicles, and that the vehicles which achieved the 2% saving represented over 10% of the UK car parc.

Shell said the disclaimers in the ads qualified the claims, and made clear that factors beyond their control, such as the type of vehicle, engine size, driving style and driving conditions might have an impact on the extent of the saving. They said they did not think the disclaimers qualified the claims to such an extent that the claims exaggerated the benefits available.

The RACC submitted a copy of the documentation provided to them by Shell as substantiation for the claim in relation to FuelSave Unleaded in ad (b). They said they thought the disclaimer made clear the qualifications to the claims, and that consumers would not be misled.

Assessment

Upheld

The ASA noted that the ads stated that fuel savings “may vary according to vehicle”, but we considered that the claim in the ads that consumers could save up to one litre per tank at no extra cost implied that the saving would be applicable to all or most vehicles. We acknowledged that, where advertisers made “up to” savings claims, CAP and the ASA generally expected that they should be able to demonstrate that 10% of consumers would be able to attain the maximum saving claimed. We therefore considered that the claim should be substantiated by evidence showing that at least 10% of vehicles in the UK would save one litre of fuel in every 50 litre fill-up.

We understood from Shell that it was generally recognised that Friction Modifiers and Combustion Improvers could reduce friction in petrol engines and reduce ignition delay in diesel engines. However, we considered that specific advertising claims about Shell’s fuels with added Friction Modifiers and Combustion Improvers must be substantiated with evidence relating to those particular fuel formulations.

We considered the test data provided by Shell. We noted that, although five cars were tested using the unleaded fuel, one of the models was not available in the UK. We noted Shell’s view that those results would be indicative of the fuel’s performance in other car models of the same make within the same vehicle ‘segment’ because they used the same engine, but we noted we had not seen evidence demonstrating that that was the case. We therefore only considered the substantiation provided with regard to the four models available in the UK. We noted that tests were carried out nine times on each car, and that the results showed that only two cars achieved average fuel savings of at least 2%. We noted that the diesel fuel was tested on four cars, and five tests were carried out on each model, the results of which were that only one car achieved an average fuel saving of at least 2%.

We noted Shell considered that because other organisations had used similar numbers of cars for tests relating to research on environmental issues, their own test methodology was consistent with best practice across the industry. However, we considered that in order to substantiate their advertising claim, Shell must provide evidence which demonstrated that at least 10% of vehicles in the UK would save one litre of fuel in every 50 litre fill-up when using Shell FuelSave fuels, and we therefore considered the test results for eight cars, only three of which achieved the claimed fuel savings, did not constitute an adequate level of evidence for the claim.

We noted Shell considered that, because their test data related to cars in specific vehicle segments of the UK car parc, and the engines of those cars were used in other makes and models of car in the same segments, those test results were relevant to all cars in those segments. We understood they therefore considered that if one car in a segment which represented, for example, 18% of the UK car parc achieved fuel savings of 2% or better, that demonstrated that 18% of UK drivers could achieve the same fuel savings. We considered, however, that extrapolating the test results from one car across all other cars in the same segment did not constitute evidence that all cars in that segment would be able to achieve the same fuel savings. We considered this was demonstrated by the results from the cars tested using the petrol fuel, where three of the cars tested were categorised in the ‘upper medium’ segment but only one achieved a fuel saving of 2% or better.

We noted that Shell had provided substantiation which showed that over 10% of the car models they had tested for both the unleaded and diesel versions of FuelSave would, on average, achieve fuel savings of at least 2%. However, we considered that data relating to just four models of car for each fuel did not constitute adequate substantiation that 10% of all motorists could achieve one litre of fuel savings in every 50 litre fill-up. We concluded that the ads were misleading.

Ad (a) breached CAP Code rules 3.1, 3.3 (Misleading advertising), 3.7 (Substantiation) and 3.11 (Exaggeration).

Ad (b) breached BCAP Code rules 3.1, 3.2 (Misleading advertising), 3.9 (Substantiation) and 3.12 (Exaggeration).

Action

Ad (a) must not appear again in its current form. Ad (b) must not be broadcast again in its current form. We told Shell to ensure that they held adequate substantiation for their advertising claims in future.

SOURCE VERDICT

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