Complaint: 07/042

Carters Direct Mail Advertisement


D. Young
Carter Holt Harvey
Addressed Mail
Household Goods
Upheld / Settled
ASA Links
Website Listing
Decision Document



Chairman's Ruling

12 March 2007

Complaint 07/042

Complainant: D. Young & Others

Advertisement: Carters Holt Harvey Limited

Complaint: The outside cover of a personally addressed direct mail advertisement had the appearance of an invoice for a total of $15492.24 from a company called "MainPower New Zealand". Below the company logo was text stating "Your Power Account". The layout was consistent with that of an actual invoice, and included such information as GST Number, Statement Number, Account Date and Customer Number.

On the inside was a double paged advertisement for Carters with the Headline "Ouch! No one likes a big power bill." The advertisement then went on to discuss ways to make homes more energy efficient.

Complainant, D. Young, said: "...At first glance this appears to be a bona fide account, much to the horror of the recipient. We feel that this type of advertising is very time consuming, misleading and could be very stressful for a small company to receive so are therefore bringing it to your attention..."

Duplicate Complainants shared similar views

The relevant provisions were: Code of Ethics, Basic Principle 4 and Rule 2.

The Agency Colenso.99, also on behalf of the Advertiser Carters, said:

"... The DM piece concerned is to promote the principles of Future-Proof Building, which Carters and other suppliers promote to the building trade and to the general public. Specifically, it is intended to emphasise the importance of the building trade using the principle of Energy Efficiency to ensure that customers minimize their future power bills; hence the use of a mock-up power bill on the front cover of the 4-page DM piece.


The intention was most definitely not to be misleading nor abuse the trust of the consumer. We expected customers to see almost immediately that it wasn't a real power bill, and we believed it was clear that it was a mock-up for the following reasons:

  1. The extraordinary amount owing, particularly compared to the amount showing that they paid for last month's bill
  2. It isn't a detailed invoice - it is just a statement that you look inside for more information. We believed that customers would quickly turn inside for more information and see the explanation of 'Ouch - no-one likes a big power bill'.
  3. There are no details on how to make a payment.
  4. There are no contact details
  5. There is no such company as Mains Power NZ and the recipient would therefore have no record of having dealt with such a company.

For all these reasons, we felt that a 'brief moment of thought' on behalf of the consumer was all that was required to 'get' the concept and for most recipients we believe this is what occurred.

The DM piece was sent to 24,759 people in the building trade and associated industries. Due to phonecalls that we started receiving on Wednesday 24 January, it was clear that some people were misinterpreting the mailer. We are always mindful of our duty to advertising standards, very conscious of keeping our great relationships with the customers, and well aware of the self-regulatory steps required to remedy any problem. For all these reasons we felt a letter of clarification (ie what the mailer was and why it was sent) and apology for any misunderstanding was required.

Therefore we took the following steps:

  • On the morning of Weds 24 January we drafted the letter.
  • We mailed this letter to all 24,759 people that were sent the original DM piece. We used the original medium to get to all people who originally received the message.
  • Furthermore, we processed it that day/through the evening, sent it by Fastpost on the morning of Thur 25 January, and it was received by many people on Thurs 25 January.
  • The cost of the letter of clarification was actually greater than the cost of the original DM piece.

To sum up -

  • In no way did we design the DM piece to breach basic principle 4 or rule 2
  • We do not feel that the DM piece breached basic principle 4 or rule 2
  • But due to misinterpretation by a minority of customers, we went to extraordinary and instant lengths to clarify and apologise for any misunderstanding to all customers.

Due to these lengths that we went to, we believe that a 'settled ruling' would be appropriate. Both the client and agency have already incurred considerable costs in the matter, and changes have been made in the client/agency process to ensure that no piece of work is sent to customers again that produces this sort of adverse reaction.

I trust that this response addresses all concerns. Please do not hesitate to contact me should you require any further information."

The Chairman considered the response received from the agency and advertiser and was of the view that the matter raised in complaint had been satisfactorily addressed in a self regulatory manner. Accordingly, he said the complaint was settled and it would serve no further purpose to place it before the Complaints Board.

The Chairman ruled the complaint was settled.

Chairman's Ruling: Complaint Settled