The Automobile Association has been forced to apologise to some of its members, including a terminally ill woman, who panicked after receiving fake police reports and bills in a mailing campaign.
Last week, the AA sent out 50,000 documents in airmail envelopes to members of its AA Five Star Service overseas insurance policy. The campaign, created by HHCL & Partners, consists of a series of authentic-looking French motorway police reports and garage bills. Recipients are told that they owe police fines, service and repair bills totalling FF3312 (419).
The leaflets are intended to sell the AA’s Five Star cover service, but the campaign has backfired. Panicking AA members thought the bills were real. Calls have gone through to the French police from worried recipients and at least one member is considering legal action against the motoring group.
“This mailshot was designed to shock, and it bloody well did. It could have been fatal,” says John Wilson, who has sent an angry letter to the AA after the fake documents were sent to a terminally ill friend of his. The woman, who wishes to remain anonymous, is suffering from cancer and received the documents after a motoring holiday with her son in France.
According to the executor of her will, Bob Henderson, the woman thought the bills were real and was left “in great mental stress”. “Everyone who has seen the mailer came to the same conclusion: that the car had been involved in some sort of offence in France. There is a letter from the AA in it, but the first thing you do is see the bills and think ‘oh God’.” The woman’s trustees have asked for compensation from the AA and are taking legal advice.
The AA admits it has had “a handful” of complaints.
Lisa Mayne, head of Five Star marketing, says the AA: “Is obviously not into shock marketing,” and that anyone who was misled by the campaign has been sent a full letter of apology.
She adds that the AA included an explanatory letter in the mailing and that it was “not aware
of people’s personalised circumstances”.
An AA spokeswoman says the mailer was “a one-off” and that no more leaflets will be sent out containing the fake bills.
Any formal complaints about the campaign are likely to be upheld, says a spokesman for the Advertising Standards Association. Its code says campaigns should not make “unreasonable appeals to fear”. “If the documents were realistic then there is ground for complaint,” he adds.
AA Five Star: New campaign coming under fire for panicking members