Advertisers must prove claims to being the best

An internet advert for a village estate agent has been censored by Britain's advertising watchdog because it claimed that the firm was the "leading agent" without evidence to back the claim.

The offending advert, which appeared on a property search website, stated that "Barkers is Shenley's Estate Agent ... The first and leading agent – with a singular focus on Shenley village and its surrounding area."

Local rival Shenley Estates complained to the Advertising Standards Authority (ASA), challenging whether Barkers Estate Agents could substantiate the claim that it was the "leading" estate agent in the Hertfordshire village.

Barkers defended its ad, arguing to the ASA that the firm had been in the area far longer than Shenley and had more experience. But the ASA considered that readers were likely to infer from the ad that Barkers sold more properties in the Shenley area than any other estate agent.

The ASA stated: "[B]ecause we had not seen evidence to show that Barkers had sold more properties than any other estate agent in the Shenley area over a recent and reasonable period of time during which there had been competition in the area, we considered that the claim 'leading agent' was misleading."

The ASA ruled that Barkers' ad breached CAP Code rules on substantiation, truthfulness and comparisons. The firm was ordered not to repeat the claim without evidence to substantiate it.

The CAP Code is the advertisers' rule book in the UK. Although lacking the force of legislation, the Code is policed by the ASA and there are penalties available for non-compliance.