Advertising Standards Authority investigates MAS “free advice” ad

The Advertising Standards Authority has launched a formal investigation into the controversial TV ad from the Money Advice Service following a raft of adviser complaints.

The ASA has launched an investigation this week after it received a total of 77 complaints against the ads. It says most of the complaints came from those working within the financial sector.

Money Marketing has raised strong concerns about the content of the advert and revealed earlier this month that the ASA was considering investigating the MAS over the 30-second ad which began airing last month.

It features a voiceover claiming: “Our advice is independent and unbiased. Oh, and it is free. How is that for a breath of fresh air?”

A spokesman for the ASA says: “We are looking into complaints which have challenged whether the name Money Advice Service is misleading, because those who have complained believe the service offers guidance not advice.

“We are looking into complaints that challenge the claim ‘our advice is independent and unbiased’. We are also looking into complaints that challenge the claim the MAS is set up by Government.”

The ASA will now contact the MAS, who will be asked to comment on the concerns raised and defend the ad. The ASA will then make a recommendation whether or not to uphold the complaints, before the ASA council ultimately decides whether the complaints should be upheld.

A spokeswoman for the MAS says: “We are aware that the ASA is carrying out an investigation. We are liaising with the ASA and will await the outcome of the investigation.”

The ad is part of a £4m nationwide advertising campaign to raise awareness about the MAS among consumers.

The MAS has a budget of £43.7m for 2011/12 which is funded by a statutory levy on the financial services industry. It is an independent body launched by the Government in April, and was formerly known as the Consumer Financial Education Body.

Money Marketing questioned the FSA about the ad in June, following concerns that the message of free and independent advice was at odds with the aims of the RDR in ensuring consumers understand the price and value of advice.

FSA director of conduct policy Sheila Nicoll said: “It is worth nothing the MAS is very clear that it is generic advice that it is providing. What the MAS is proposing is actually pretty complementary to the RDR.”