Screenshot from Planthood Dragon's Den episode

Source: BBC

The social media ads included clips taken from an episode of Dragons’ Den featuring Planthood co-founders Will Moxham and Hilary Kennedy (pictured), which aired in February 2023

TikTok has removed ads featuring edited Dragons’ Den episode clips, following a row between two DTC startups.

In what it later claimed was an April Fool’s Day “spoof”, direct to consumer ready meal brand Simmer had posted a series of paid-for social media ads at the end of March, featuring footage of its founders – brothers Simmy and Jhai Dhillon – edited into clips taken from an episode of Dragons’ Den in which vegan meal kit brand Planthood featured.

Will Moxham, who co-founded Planthood with his wife Hilary Kennedy, quickly took to LinkedIn to complain Simmer had engaged “in false advertising”.

“I can’t believe I am waking up this morning to see one of our competitors Simmer engaging in false advertising that misleads viewers into thinking Planthood’s Dragon Den episode is theirs,” he wrote.

“Every single Dragons Den clip in this video is from our episode and was said about Planthood.

“Comments from Steven Bartlett and Deborah Meaden in our episode like ‘I think this is a brilliant business’, ‘I really like this’ and ‘the food is amazing’, cut to the smiling faces of Simmy Dhillon and Jhai Dhillon against a fake ‘Den’ backdrop, alongside clips of Simmer’s website and food.

“Simmy Dhillon and Jhai Dhillon shame on you. As another fellow self-funded family business I am totally shocked that you think it is OK to behave this way. We would never dream of trying to profit from another small businesses hard work in such an unethical way.”

Moxham called on his followers to report the ads to Facebook and TikTok and said he had reported them to the ASA.

Speaking to The Grocer, Moxham said he had contacted Simmy Dhillon as soon as he had become aware of the adverts and asked him to take them down.

However, Dhillon claimed he had not had a chance to respond to Moxham before he posted publicly to LinkedIn on 30 March.

Dhillon claimed the paid-for ads were originally intended to be “light-hearted” spoofs to seen over the “April Fool’s period”.

He said he was on holiday in Taiwan at the time the LinkedIn post went live but had instructed his team to take the ads down as soon as he became aware of the issue.

However, some remained visible for several days. When they finally disappeared from Facebook by 2 April, it was unclear whether they had been removed by Facebook or Simmer.

TikTok removed them on 3 April “for breaching our ad policies”, a spokesman said.

Dhillon took to LinkedIn on 5 April to write: “This is the most hate I’ve ever received.

“Our intent was a harmless, cheeky marketing stunt. Not underhand. Not malicious. But it’s clear mistakes were made.”

Dhillon claimed he had received “threats, racism, the lot” in the days following Moxham’s post.

He told The Grocer he had received offensive direct messages from “faceless accounts” on Instagram and TikTok, so he could not be certain they had come from people within the industry.

When contacted by The Grocer, a spokesman for the ASA said the watchdog was reviewing several complaints made against the ads on the grounds they were “misleading”. “We’re not currently investigating this ad,” he said.