ASA Ruling on British Telecommunications plc
British Telecommunications plc t/a
81 Newgate Street
16 January 2013
Regional press, Television
Computers and telecommunications
Number of complaints:
Abbot Mead Vickers BBDO Ltd
Summary of Council decision:
Three issues were investigated, of which two were Upheld and one was Not Upheld.
a. A press ad for BT broadband was headed "The UK's most complete broadband package. All singing, all dancing". Further text stated "Free for 6 months" and in smaller text underneath "Then just £13 a month, plus your line rental at £14.60 a month". Small print at the bottom of the ad stated "Offer ends 10/01/13. For new BT broadband customers only that sign up for an 18 month minimum term and pay BT line rental of £14.60 a month (rising to £15.45 on 05/01/13)".
b. A TV ad for BT was seen in October 2012. The voice-over stated "BT brings you BT Broadband and unlimited UK evening and weekend calls. Plus discounted international calls. All for just £13 a month plus £14.60 for a BT line. And now free for six months. BT broadband and calls - free for the first six months." On-screen text at the bottom of the screen included "18 month term. BT line rental rising to £15.45 from 5/1/2013".
The ASA received three complaints.
1. One complainant, who understood that line rental was payable during the first six months, challenged whether the claim "Free for six months" in ad (a) was misleading.
2. One complainant, who understood that line rental was payable during the first six months, challenged whether the claim "free for six months" in ad (b) was misleading.
3. One complainant, who understood that the line rental would increase to £15.45 in January 2013, challenged whether the claim "£14.60 for a BT line" in ad (b) was misleading.
CAP Code (Edition 12)
1. & 2. British Telecommunications plc t/a BT (BT) agreed that ads (a) and (b) could have been clearer. They believed the ambiguity was an unintended consequence of their attempts to comply with a recent ASA adjudication, relating to another telecoms provider, regarding the prominence of line rental. They said they had made efforts to amend all their advertising in a relatively short period of time, and had inadvertently created a confusing offer. They had overlooked the fact that the positioning of the reference to line rental in ad (a) and voice-over regarding of the rental in ad (b) meant consumers might interpret it to mean that the line rental was also free for six months. They said they were willing to amend the ad to make the offer clearer.
Clearcast agreed with BT's response regarding ad (b). They said they had overlooked that viewers might consider that the claim "free for six months" included the line rental, and that the ad could have made clearer that it did not.
3. BT said their process was to alert customers to future price changes in their communications once they knew they would definitely take place. In this case they started to include this information in their marketing from September 2012 when they referred to the current price and included information about the price increase in the footnotes. They said from mid November they referred to the new prices and included the current price in the footnotes. They believed their approach was transparent and in line with standard practise.
Clearcast did not believe the claim "£14.60 for a BT line" was misleading because the price increase was stated in the on-screen text.
1. & 2. Upheld
The ASA considered that the claim "Free for 6 months" followed by "Then just £13 a month, plus your line rental at £14.60 a month" in ad (a) implied that for the first six months nothing was payable, and that after this period customers would have to pay £13 a month plus £14.60 line rental. We also considered the claim "And now free for six months" preceded by "All for just £13 a month plus £14.60 for a BT line" in ad (b) implied that for the first six months nothing was payable, and that after this period customers would have to pay £13 a month plus £14.60 line rental. Because the line rental was in fact payable from the start of the contract and this was not made clear in the ads we concluded the claims were misleading.
On this point ad (a) breached CAP Code (Edition 12) rules 3.1 and 3.3 (Misleading advertising) and 3.23 (Free).
On this point ad (b) breached BCAP Code rules 3.1 and 3.2 (Misleading advertising) and 3.25 (Free).
3. Not upheld
We considered that the line rental price increase was material information that customers needed to make an informed decision about whether or not to purchase the service, particularly because a minimum 18-month contract term applied. However, we concluded that, because the date and amount of the price increase was made clear in the on-screen text, the claim "£14.60 for a BT line" was not misleading.
On this point we investigated ad (b) under BCAP Code rules 3.1 and 3.2 (Misleading advertising), 3.10 (Qualification) and 3.18 (Prices) but did not find it in breach.
Ads (a) and (b) must not appear again in their current form. We told BT they made clear the extent of the commitment consumers must make to take advantage of "free" offers in future.