Consumers residing outside the range of public utility services found information in their mailboxes regarding amendments to the law governing waste water systems. The brochure looked like a notice from the authorities, but upon closer inspection, it turned out to be an advertisement sent by Ecolator Oy.
The letter from Ecolator Oy, titled ”Important notice to residents of this area” was liable to give recipients the impression that it was an official announcement to home owners in the area, perhaps sent by municipal environmental officers. This impression was further supported by mentions of ”waste water experts making their rounds in the area” and references to amended regulations. The name of the company was only visible at the bottom of the page.
The Government Decree on Treating Domestic Waste Water in Areas Outside Sewer Networks states that home owners must ensure that the property has a survey of the existing waste water system and instructions for its use and maintenance. The survey is used to assess whether the new legislative requirements are met. The survey may, for example, be made on a form provided free of charge by municipalities or Finland's environmental administration.
Making references in marketing to legislative amendments is not, in itself, against the law. However, the survey offered by Ecolator Oy and stating the fact that it is ”required by law” conveyed an ambiguous impression to consumers regarding their obligations under the amended legal provisions. The marketing materials did not clearly indicate the fact that they were an advertisement for a commercial service provider. An advertisement must always be recognised as such, even at a glance. The marketing practices of the company were therefore deemed inappropriate.
The missing doorstep selling document
Once the consumer invited the company's representative to undertake a waste water survey, he was also offered the company's waste water system. As this effectively turned the visit into doorstep selling, the company should have provided the consumer with a doorstep selling document in conjunction with signing a sales agreement for the waste water system. The doorstep selling document specifies the right of cancellation and contains other important information that the consumer should be aware of when making a purchase. Should he wish to terminate the agreement, the consumer can appeal to the lack of a doorstep selling document for a period of one year.
The company was also reprimanded for the use of non-fact-based superlatives and claims such as ”proven to be the best” in their marketing. Advertisers must base their claims on facts. The more assertive the claim, the clearer the supporting evidence must be. The company informed the Consumer Agency that they would correct the defects in their marketing and adopt a doorstep selling document. KUV/7389/41/2008