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Friday, 17 October 2014

Bending Space and Time - or the Truth?

Legal, decent, honest and truthful

These four words form a key part of the intrinsic values of every Approved Driving Instructor (ADI) – don’t they?

For some time now I’ve had a bee-in-my-bonnet about the standard of advertising within the driver training industry, including both the intended and unintended messages these communicate.
I realise that for many ADIs this is the first time they have been self-employed, becoming not only a training deliverer but also, amongst many things, their own website designer, copy & proof reader, and marketing manager. However, websites and social media content generally goes unchecked and a lot of the transgressions are unintentional, but I guess even when giving them the benefit of the doubt, is ignorance really a valid defence for a responsible business owner?

Some businesses should know better
I recently received an email from one of the voucher scheme providers and one headline caught my interest
Get 4 beginners driving lessons - £12
After the usual round of eye-rolling and tutting I looked past the headline and clicked on the “fine print” which told me that the "Deal consists of 2 hours worth of driving lessons at the start and 2 hours before the driving test."
This revelation got me wondering what I’ve been doing wrong all these years –I’ve been doing pre-test preparation lessons two hours prior to the test and tend to get the beginner lessons out of the way quite early on when the pupil is...huh erm.... a beginner (Seemed more client-centred to me).

Now taking into account the fine print this particular headline appeared to be a little misleading, so I followed the advice of the Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) and sent the following business-to-business email politely requesting a change to the wording.

Dear Voucher Scheme Provider,
I would like to bring to your attention the misleading nature of a current advert you have running for XYZ Driving School. This advert clearly states:  "Get 4 beginners' driving lessons"
However; the terms and conditions restrict this to two beginner lessons.
Quote: "Deal consists of 2 hours worth of driving lessons at the start and 2 hours before the driving test". This means the customer cannot take four beginner lessons and [the advert] is therefore misleading and should either be removed or reworded.

Very shortly after I received the following reply from Voucher Scheme

Thank you for your E mail.
Any customer purchasing the deal with the merchant XYZ will get two 2 hour free lessons at the start when you begin learning. Any lessons the instructor feels the customer needs leading up to the driving test the customer will pay the merchant XYZ for. Before you take your driving test the 2 lessons all customers will have before their test will be free of charge. This equates to 4 lessons in total each at one hour in length.” 

For us mere mortals who couldn’t follow that logic, here’s a summary;
Two x 2 hours + 2 hours = 4 (1 hour lessons) and these are free
Where did the £12 go?  And how does 2 x 2 + 2 = 4? And how does a two hour lesson become a one hour lesson?

Time Travel
This made me wonder how I managed to miss the ADI training classes on how to bend the space and time continuum....
...and then it struck me, I realised just how it is they can deliver beginner lessons just before the test and only charge an equivalent £3 per hour – they must have a time-machine taking them back to the beginner lessons and then at the end of each day it takes the instructor back to the 1970’s when the cost-of-living was lower.

If they haven’t invented time travel then I suggest this particular advert isn’t accurately representing the service being offered and so I made it clear to Voucher Scheme Provider that if they continued the campaign with its current wording then I would have to formally complain to ASA. This did the trick and Voucher Scheme Provider sent another email informing me that the wording had been changed, although by this time the campaign had ended with over 220 vouchers sold.

Now you might be thinking so what? What’s this got to do with me anyway? Well, as a consumer and business owner it’s all about a sense of fairness and no doubt at some point we’ve all questioned the validity of an advertisement’s content, so why wouldn’t I challenge those in my industry which directly affect my business?

Buyers Remorse
Here’s the problem. Those 220 customers are now 220 fewer customers for all those businesses who follow the rules and play fair. Also, those new customers may regret not having read the fine print when they eventually find out that their expectations are not met and consequently a distrust of the industry as a whole grows. I recently took a call from a potential client who'd bought a voucher and spent the entire duration of the lesson driving around a car park because the instructor didn't know the area.

Over the next few weeks I continued to look out for further advertising by this company and sure enough around a month later a similar email was received. This time though, the wording had indeed changed and the beginner lessons simply became lessons. The effect was dramatic, as this time around the number of people purchasing the voucher dropped from 220 to 77. So, it appears that a large number of consumers were possibly misled by the wording of the previous advert and may well have made a different transactional decision had it not included the word “beginner”.

Many ADIs work independently and are unaware of the rules and regulations. Without an awareness of the advertising codes ADIs are likely to fall foul of the rules and leave their businesses open to all manner of issues. Driver Instruct Partnership provide business support and advice to help it's members meet the legal requirements. 

You can find out more on our website www.driverinstruct.co.uk

©Stu Walker 2014

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