Further to my letter of 27 September, we have received a response from HowToCorp. They have explained that the advertising is no longer appearing and have provided assurances related to any future advertising that we consider address your concerns. We consider that this will resolve the complaint without referring the matter to the ASA Council, and will consequently be closing our file.Obviously this looks like a victory for Grant Shapps: he's avoided an investigation and the embarrassing revelation that HowToCorp's personnel and satisfied customers were fictional - proof that he and his wife (who succeeded him as the company's owner) actually lied would have finished him off. Now he keeps his job and the company carries on, though it's non-existent on Google and presumably will struggle to attract business.
In a formal investigation, if the ASA Council decides that an ad is in breach of the Code, the advertiser is told to withdraw or amend it. Because HowToCorp have already assured us that the advertising you complained about has been withdrawn and will be amended if it is used in future, we consider there is little to be gained from continuing with a formal investigation, which would achieve that same outcome.
Although we will not publish full details of your complaint on our website, www.asa.org.uk, basic information including the advertiser’s name and where the ad appeared will appear on Wednesday 17 October.
Thank you for taking the time and trouble to raise the matter with us. If you would like more information about what we do and the ads we have found in breach of the Code, please have a look on our website.
But as it is, a nasty smell hangs around Mr Shapps. The ASA has folded very weakly - I suspect under pressure from Mr Shapps - but he's fixed in the public consciousness as a spin, rather than as a statesman - today's Guardian cartoon portrays him at the Tory Conference naked but for three delegates' passes. He fobbed off Michael Crick of Channel 4 News this weekend with the claim that an ASA investigation was under way - he'd have known by that point that it wasn't. Folding so early looks very, very like a guilty conscience: rather than asserting that Fox, Green and these testimonials were genuine, the company agreed never to use them again. Now we just need a customer to take him to court for fraud…
How do I feel about this? Disappointed, of course: the Establishment has found a loophole through which he's escaped. But I'm also pleased: despite the sneering about bloggers, this has been an instructive exercise in active citizenship. What next? Back to Paul Uppal, the egregious and invisible local MP.
Update: I asked to see HowToCorp's response to the ASA:
I’m afraid we are, however, unable to pass copies of correspondence between an advertiser and the ASA to complainants.Which seems a bit odd: HowToCorp saw my correspondence to the ASA. Does it have a duty of confidentiality to offending companies? Why?