Parked domain website ads found misleading by ASA

A parked domain website advertising sofas has been deemed as misleading by the Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) following an investigation.

A content discovery network ad, seen on 21 November 2022, on a national newspaper website at the bottom of a news article stated “Unsold Sofas Selling For Nearly Nothing In London (Search Here)” accompanied with a stock photo of a sofa. Beneath the text there were the terms “Sofas” “Search Ads” “Sponsored”.

The link led to a website (https://pr.couches-sofas-94612.com), which consisted of a list of links under the headings “Corner Sofas UK”, “Leather Sofas”, and “Fabric Sofas”. These ultimately linked through to a number of further paid-for ads for sofa retailers.

The ASA challenged whether the claim “Unsold Sofas Selling For Nearly Nothing In London (Search Here)” was misleading as to the nature of the content that the ad linked through to and that the ad falsely implied the marketer was acting for purposes outside its business.

The person or company behind the website, pr.couches-sofas-94612.com, did not respond to the ASA’s enquiries.

In a statement on the case, the advertising watchdog said: “The ASA was concerned by Person(s) unknown t/a pr.couches-sofas-94612’s lack of response and apparent disregard for the Code as well as their failure to provide their full name and geographical business address, which were in breach of CAP Code (Edition 12) rule 1.7 (Unreasonable delay) and 1.7.1 (Compliance). We reminded them of their responsibility to provide a response to our enquiries without delay and told them to do so in the future.

“We considered consumers would understand from the text “Unsold Sofas Selling For Nearly Nothing In London (Search Here)” that the ad linked to information about discounted sofas, or that it led directly to a website or product listing page selling such discounted sofas. We considered that “Search Here” implied that consumers would be immediately able to find discounted sofas once they clicked on the ad. While we acknowledged that the label “Search Ads” was featured in small print beneath the claim, we considered that this would be understood in the same way as the “Search Here” text of the headline, and therefore did not override the overall impression of the ad.

“When clicked on, the ad took consumers to a landing page which featured a brief list of links under the headings “Corner Sofas UK”, “Leather Sofas” and “Fabric Sofas”. The page did not contain any information about, or product listings for, discounted sofas. Each subheading led to further paid-for ads that ultimately led to the websites for various sofa retailers. There was no indication that the retailers the ads led to offered sofas at a significantly discounted price.

“We understood that the landing page (https://pr.couches-sofas-94612.com) for the ad was a ‘parked domain’ website. We understood that domain parking was the registration of an Internet domain name without that domain being associated with services such as e-mail or a website. Domain parking could be done for various reasons, including reserving the domain name for future development or to protect the domain name from use by others. Domain parking could also be monetised by operating a single-page website which hosted ads, as was the case here. Ads which linked through to the parked domain website would then generate income from the host of the parked domain through the impressions it collected.

“The ad therefore misleadingly implied that consumers would find information or product listings for discounted sofas when they clicked on it, when that was not the case. We considered that the nature of the content the ad linked through to, particularly that it linked only to ads and search results, was likely to have a significant impact on whether or not consumers chose to engage with it. We therefore considered that the nature of the content the ad linked through to should have been made clear in the ad, and because it did not do so we concluded the ad was misleading.”

The ASA ruled that the adverts were misleading and stated that they must not appear again in the form complained about.

“We told Person(s) Unknown t/a pr.couches-sofas-94612.com to ensure that their ads did not mislead consumers as to the nature of the content they would receive if they engaged with them, for example by using phrases such as “Selling For Nearly Nothing” and “Search Here” when the ad did not direct to a product listings for discounted products,” the ASA said.

“Ads for parked domain sites should make clear if the only content consumers would be served with by clicking on the ad would be more ads or links to search results. We referred the matter to CAP’s Compliance team.”

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