Oak Furniture Land convicted of Misleading Marketing – our take on it.
The saga about Solid Oak Furniture versus veneer, which for years has been amplified by Oak Furniture Land’s advertising campaigns, carries on with the October conviction by ASA (Advertising Standards Authority) rendering Oak Furniture Land guilty of ‘misleading advertising’. ASA demanded that Oak Furniture Land put a stop to some of their TV Commercials and their YouTube videos. These videos claim there is "no veneer in ’ere" and that the furniture is made of "100% Solid Hardwood" when in actual fact Oak Furniture Land use a veneer wrapping technique on some of the table legs.
ASA ‘…concluded that the claims "solid hardwood”, "100% solid hardwood” and "no veneer” were misleading.’
Furthermore ASA demanded, as a consequence, this action of Oak Furniture Land: ‘…The ads must not appear again in their current forms. We [ASA] told Oak Furniture Land not to state or imply that products had "no veneer” or were made from "solid hardwood” if they were manufactured using the "oak wrap” technique or other similar techniques.’
The full ASA report on the complaint raised against Oak Furniture Land, including Oak Furniture Land’s response, ASA’s assessment and ASA’s verdict, dated 19th October 2016, can be found here.
We agree with Oak Furniture Land - but....
Here at OAKEA, we believe that the direction this discussion – however valid – has taken is misleading in itself, and is not in the best interest of the consumer. To this extent, we agree with Oak Furniture Land’s response, when they say they only use solid hardwood and ‘…the term [Solid Hardwood] would be understood by the average consumer to mean that the products in question contained nothing other than hardwood.’
We also agree with Oak Furniture Land when they ‘…argue(d) that consumers could not be misled to their detriment as the "oak wrap” technique meant that the legs were of a superior composition to comparable timber that contained legs made from a single piece of hardwood.’
What we don’t agree with is that the way ASA has dealt with this complaint against Oak Furniture Land fuels the misperception that a piece of furniture, made entirely of Solid Oak or Solid Hardwood is automatically better than a similar piece of furniture where some of the components are veneered, with a good quality wood veneer applied to a good quality composite material using a good quality glue. Implying solid means it must be better is in our opinion, in itself, a misleading implicit position for ASA (and everyone else) to hold.
We don’t believe that the industry should expect of the average consumer to be an expert in woodwork, carpentry and joinery. In our opinion the whole discussion is sadly lacking a useful definition of ‘quality’.
It must start with the quality
Many different definitions of quality exist, but going by the official business directory’s definition, then it follows that Oak Furniture Land’s insistence on using 100% Solid Hardwood in all the furniture generally results in very poor ‘quality’ products. This quality definition reads:
‘In manufacturing, (‘Quality’ is) a measure of excellence or a state of being free from defects, deficiencies and significant variations. It is brought about by strict and consistent commitment to certain standards that achieve uniformity of a product in order to satisfy specific customer or user requirements.’
Using 100 % Solid Hardwood in all Furniture from Oak Furniture Land inevitably has the complete opposite effect of ensuring that the furniture is ‘free from defects, deficiencies and significant variations’. It is also throwing to the wind ‘commitment to certain standards that achieve uniformity of a product in order to satisfy specific customer and user requirements’.
This is because natural ‘defects’ and ‘significant variations’ are inherent properties and characteristics of solid wood. Commitment to achieving uniformity to satisfy customer and user requirements logically means that efforts are being made to ensure that the customer gets a product which matches or exceeds the expectations, resulting from the presentation of the displayed product.
Solid wood in each and every component expands, shrinks, warps or cracks it is a natural behaviour of the wood. And when each and every component is made of Solid Oak or other solid hardwood, then the customer gets a product displaying the charm and character of the features of solid hardwood. But with a misguided perception of 100% Solid = ‘quality’, this is not likely to be what the average customer wants or expects.
It is our belief that the 4 key requirements of the vast majority of consumers buying furniture are:
1) Does it look good in my house?
2) Does it last?
3) Does it fit?
4) Does it fill its function?
At OAKEA we develop and source furniture by optimising the furniture on the basis of these 4 requirements. Specifying furniture made of 100 % Solid wood can be made to fit and to fill its function. But it’s likely to display a perceived deterioration sooner, as movements in every component is more likely to cause slight splits, warps, shrinkage or expansion.
Perhaps this is why Oak Furniture Land ask of customers to sign that they understand this, and that these ‘features’ are natural. Perhaps this is why Oak Furniture Land insist that – in order for the warranty to apply - customers buy wax and spend time on treating their furniture as described on Oak Furniture Land’s care guide.
Implying that 100 % solid hardwood in every component is the best way to make Wooden Furniture is like implying that a pork pie should be 100% pork. If the dough was made of pork, it wouldn't quite work...
In Conclusion: We don’t believe Oak Furniture Land are doing anything wrong in the context of the complaint raised against them. In demanding that customers sign that they understand the characteristics of furniture made of 100% Solid Hardwood, Oak Furniture Land actually go out of their way to explain quite clearly to customers that, if they want the character of 100 % solid wood they should expect ‘poor quality’ going by the official Business Directory’s definition of ‘Quality’.
No doubt some people deliberately go for this character and love to spend time on waxing their furniture. No doubt some people will look at a subtle crack or warp developed over time as a charming feature of a natural product. We believe, however, that the vast majority of people prefer to have their furniture last in the form it was purchased for as long as possible without having to spend time on maintaining it and care for it by waxing it to retain the warranty. And this majority is – in our opinion – being grossly misled by the direction this discussion has taken, and not by an advertising campaign that correctly claims that the furniture is made of 100% solid hardwood, albeit a veneer wrapping technique is used on some solid hardwood table legs.