ASA Adjudication on Virgin Media Ltd
28 July 2010
Television, National press
Computers and telecommunications
Number of complaints:
Two press ads and one TV ad for Virgin Media (VM) HD TV.
a. The first press ad stated in the headline “World Cup in Amazing HD. No monthly fee”. The body copy stated “Catch the action in glorious high definition with Virgin Media. For a one-off set up fee of £49, you can enjoy the excitement of the World Cup on ITV1 and BBC HD with no extra monthly cost”. The footnote stated “No monthly fee for HD channels when you subscribe to any TV package. Standard installation fee (£35) remains payable”.
b. The second press ad featured in two parts in a double page of a newspaper. One side of the ad featured the image of a footballer completing a kick and stated “World Cup in Amazing HD”. The other side of the ad showed a goal keeper catching a VM HD box and stated “No monthly fee” in the headline. The body copy stated “Catch all the action in glorious high definition with Virgin Media. For a one-off set up fee of £49, you can see every World Cup game on ITV1 HD and BBC HD with no extra monthly cost”.
c. The TV ad showed a family watching TV and various characters and animals burst out of the TV screen into the living room. The on-screen text stated “Cabled areas only. Min contract. Subject to survey, compatibility. When taken with any Virgin TV package. Usual monthly costs apply. Install fee £49 standard setup. HD ready TV required”. The voice-over went on to state “With Virgin Media you get amazing HD for no extra monthly fee” and on-screen text appeared that stated “AMAZING HD, NO MONTHLY FEE”.
1. British Sky Broadcasting Ltd (Sky) and three complainants challenged whether the claim "For a one-off set up fee of £49" in ads (a) and (b) was misleading because new customers were required to pay a £35 installation fee.
2. Sky and one complainant challenged whether the claim "World Cup in Amazing HD. No monthly fee" in ad (a), "No monthly fee" in ad (b) and the claim "AMAZING HD, NO MONTHLY FEE " in ad (c) were misleading because a monthly fee was required for TV subscription package.
3. Two complainants objected that ads (a), (b) and (c) were misleading because it did not make clear that existing customers may have to upgrade their TV package to take advantage of the offer.
4 . One viewer challenged whether ad (c) was misleading because it implied that all channels with a HD option within a particular TV package would be available when that was not the case.
CAP Code (Edition 11)
BCAP TV Code
1. Virgin Media (VM) said that both ads made clear that a standard installation fee of £35 would remain payable for new customers. They explained that every new customer would have to pay this fee, irrespective of what TV package or combination of VM services they took. VM said the installation fee was stated in the small print, which they believed was the common positioning of such information within the industry. In addition, VM explained that they believed the ad complied with CAP guidance because the cost for a standard definition (SD) customer would remain the same and HD channels were not charged for over and above the up-front cost of an installation fee, which was made clear to consumers.
2. VM said there was no monthly fee attributable to receiving HD channels, so they believed they were justified in making the "No monthly fee" claim. VM believed that ads (a) and (b) were unequivocal in the body copy because they stated there was "no extra monthly cost" to watch the World Cup in HD and believed all consumers responding to the ad would have read this. Furthermore, VM believed that the small print in the non-broadcast ad made clear there was no monthly fee for HD channels when customers subscribed to any TV package.
In relation to ad (c), Clearcast said that the on-screen text appeared at the same time as the voice-over which stated "amazing HD for no extra monthly fee". They believed that this made clear that there was a standard monthly subscription charge, but there was no extra charge on top for HD.
3. VM said there was no requirement for existing customers to upgrade their TV package in order to receive HD. They explained that a briefing to call centres originally stated that the minimum TV package to receive HD was "M+" which was their lowest retail package. They said that the "M" package was a legacy package that was no longer sold to new customers. VM said this briefing was replaced to make clear that existing customers with the "M" package were eligible for HD without the need to upgrade to "M+". They said the revised briefing was sent on 1 May which coincided with the beginning of the TV campaign.
Cleacast said VM assured them at the pre-clearance stage that HD would be available for £49 to viewers with any TV package.
4. Clearcast said there was nothing in ad (c) to suggest that a customer would get all available HD channels; they understood that the number of channels received would be dependent on which package customers had. Cleacast said they were assured that even if a customer chose the basic TV package they would still receive three HD channels.
The ASA noted that ads (a) and (b) stated that for "a one-off set up fee of £49, you can see every World Cup game on ITV1 HD and BBC HD". We considered that readers were likely to understand the claim to mean that for one fixed cost of £49 they would be able to receive HD without incurring any additional charges. We understood that often marketers placed their installation fee within the small print and considered that in most cases that was likely to be acceptable. However, because the overall message of the ad was that customers could receive HD channels for little cost, and the ad referred to a set-up fee that consumers could infer was the only applicable charge, we considered that the existence of the additional installation fee contradicted the main message of the ads. We therefore concluded the ads were likely to mislead.
On this point, ads (a) and (b) breached CAP Code clauses 3.1 (Substantiation), 7.1, 7.2 (Truthfulness) and 15.3 (Prices).
We considered that the claim "No monthly fee" implied there would be no monthly cost to receive HD channels, which was not the case because customers were required to pay a monthly subscription cost for the TV package. Although we noted that the body copy of ads (a) and (b) and the voice-over of ad (c) stated there would be "no extra monthly cost", we nonetheless considered that the ad targeted both existing Virgin media customers and new customers and noted new customers would additionally be required to pay for a TV package. We considered that, in the absence of further clarification, the qualifying text contradicted the overall claim "No monthly fee" and gave the impression that there was no cost obligation over and above the set-up fee of £49. We therefore concluded that the claim "No monthly cost" in ads (a), (b) and (c) was likely to mislead.
On this point, ads (a) and (b) breached CAP Code clauses 3.1 (Substantiation), 7.1 and 7.2 (Truthfulness) and ad (c) breached CAP (Broadcast) TV Advertising Standards Code rules 5.1.1, 5.1.2, 5.1.3 (Misleading advertising) and 5.2.3 (Qualifications).
We understood that call centre staff were given an incorrect briefing which said existing customers needed to upgrade their TV package to "M+" in order to receive HD. Although we acknowledged that the briefing was amended in May, we considered that a number of readers who had responded to ads (a) and (b) prior to that could have been given incorrect information that they needed to upgrade their TV package in order to be eligible for the offer. We noted that several complainants were told that they needed to upgrade their TV package, contrary to the claim in the ad. We understood that the revised briefing was in place at the time ad (c) was broadcast and that it was likely the correct information was available. However, because readers may not have been able to take advantage of the offer at the time ads (a) and (b) appeared under the advertised terms, we concluded they were likely to mislead.
On this point, ads (a) and (b) breached CAP Code clauses 3.1 (Substantiation), 7.1 and 7.2 (Truthfulness).
We investigated ad (c) under CAP (Broadcast) TV Advertising Standards Code rules 5.1.1, 5.1.2, 5.1.3 (Misleading advertising) and 5.2.3 (Qualifications) but did not find it in breach.
We considered that it was reasonable for viewers to infer that they would receive the HD equivalent of the channels they already had if they took up the offer. We understood that consumers who had channels, several of which were available in HD, only received a few channels unless they upgraded their package. We therefore concluded that in the absence of qualification to make clear that a limited number of HD channels would be available, the ad was likely to mislead.
On this point, the ad breached CAP (Broadcast) TV Advertising Standards Code rules 5.1.1, 5.1.2, 5.1.3 (Misleading advertising) and 5.2.3 (Qualifications).
Ads (a) and (b) must not appear again in their current form.
Ad (c) must not be broadcast again in its current form.
Adjudication of the ASA Council (Broadcast)
Adjudication of the ASA Council (Non-broadcast)