ASA Ruling on PlusNet plc
2 Pinfold Street
1 May 2013
Computers and telecommunications
Number of complaints:
Summary of Council decision:
Three issues were investigated, of which two were Upheld and one Not upheld.
A TV ad, for PlusNet broadband, showed a man, who stated "Everyone's a winner with the PlusNet broadband half price sale. All broadband's [sic] half off. There's even half off unlimited broadband. You can get it from just four ninety nine a month … you can get it from under a fiver a month." Large on-screen text stated "Unlimited broadband from £4.99 a month" and the smaller text "with £13.99 monthly line rental" was below. The man continued, "Don't miss out, get unlimited broadband half off from just four ninety nine a month …" Small on-screen text, which stated "New customers only; £8.49 a month for customers in certain areas. £5.99 router delivery. 12 month minimum term. Subject to availability. Payment by Direct Debit. Introductory offer ends 07/02/2013. Conditions apply", appeared for the duration of the ad.
1. A viewer challenged whether the on-screen text was legible.
2. A second viewer challenged whether the ad was misleading, because the offer did not apply to "everyone".
3. Other viewers challenged whether the claim "All broadband's [sic] half off" was misleading, because they understood the offer applied only to packages that included line rental whereas broadband-only services remained at full price.
1. PlusNet said they understood the on-screen text was of the required minimum height.
Clearcast said its operations team was satisfied that there were no technical issues with the ad and it had been approved on that basis, taking into account the height of the on-screen text, its legibility and the duration for which it appeared.
2. PlusNet said the offer was available to existing customers as well as new customers so the on-screen text would be amended to state "£8.49 a month for customers in certain areas. £5.99 router delivery. 12 month minimum term. Subject to availability. Payment by Direct Debit. Introductory offer ends 07/02/2013. Terms apply". The amended version was due to appear until the end of the promotion. They also said the claim "everyone's a winner" was clearly puffery. They said it was impossible for everyone to be a winner and believed people would not be misled, even if a literal interpretation was taken.
Clearcast said the ad clearly stated that the offer was available to new customers only and that information was included in the terms and conditions provided by PlusNet. They said "everyone's a winner" was not considered to be an all-encompassing claim but as referring to those who were eligible being winners. They said it was a common phrase in everyday use and they believed it would not be taken literally. They said PlusNet had now extended the offer to include existing customers and they had approved a new version of the ad on that basis.
3. PlusNet said the offer was available only when consumers took a phone line as well as broadband. They felt that was made clear via the text "with £13.99 monthly line rental", which appeared prominently alongside the broadband price claim for the duration of the voice-over. It appeared three times in the longer version of the ad and twice in a shorter version. PlusNet said the word "with", which by definition meant to accompany something, made clear the broadband and line rental elements were intrinsically linked and that one could not be taken without the other in order to obtain broadband at half price. They said the stated discount was on the broadband element only and that was why they had chosen to present the two elements separately, albeit next to each other, rather than as one package price, which would cause confusion and mislead consumers. They said the claims "All broadband's [sic] half off" and "There's even half off unlimited broadband" were factually correct when the broadband was taken together with a PlusNet line. They believed the ad made clear the offer was a conditional purchase one.
Clearcast did not specifically comment on this point.
1. Not upheld
The ASA noted the complainant was concerned that the small text at the bottom of the screen was in a font that made it impossible to read. We noted that qualifying information must be presented clearly, with the aim being to achieve a standard of legibility that would enable an interested viewer, who made some positive effort, to read all text.
We noted the text, which was white, appeared on a black background for the duration of the ad. We considered it was sufficiently legible to achieve the aim of enabling an interested viewer, who made some positive effort, to read all text. We considered the on-screen text was presented sufficiently clearly to avoid misleading and therefore concluded that the ad did not breach the Code.
On this point, we investigated the ad under BCAP Code rule 3.11 (Qualification) but did not find it in breach.
We noted PlusNet's explanation that the offer was also available to existing customers and that they had therefore removed the text "New customers only". While we acknowledged "everyone's a winner" was commonly used, we considered, particularly in the context of advertising for a promotional price, which also included claims such as "All broadband's [sic] half off. There's even half off unlimited broadband. You can get it from just four ninety nine a month", it would be understood to mean everyone could benefit from the offer. We therefore considered the text "New customers only" contradicted that impression. We acknowledged that the offer was in fact available to existing customers but considered the inclusion of that condition, which was in any case contradictory, in the ad was likely to lead existing customers to believe they could not benefit from the offer and that they might miss out on the promotional price as a result. We therefore concluded that the ad was misleading.
On this point, the ad breached BCAP Code rules 3.1 (Misleading advertising) and 3.10 (Qualification).
We noted the half price broadband was available only when customers also took line rental from PlusNet. We noted the ad included the on-screen text "with £13.99 monthly line rental" which, although smaller than the text "Unlimited broadband from £4.99 a month" on two of the occasions on which it appeared in the full version of the ad and on both occasions in the shorter version, was prominent. We considered, however, particularly given that the ad emphasised that "All broadband's [sic] half off" and included claims such as "everyone's a winner", "There's even half off unlimited broadband. You can get it from just four ninety nine a month … you can get it from under a fiver a month" and "don't miss out, get unlimited broadband half off from just four ninety nine a month …", the text "with £13.99 monthly line rental" was likely to be interpreted to mean that was the price of line rental for consumers who chose to take it, rather than that the offer was available only to those who paid £13.99 per month for line rental. We considered that was a significant condition of the promotion that was not made sufficiently clear and that the word "with" was not sufficient to counteract the overall impression of the ad, which was that all broadband was half price. On balance, we therefore concluded that the ad was misleading.
On this point, the ad breached BCAP Code rules 3.1 and 3.2 (Misleading advertising) and 3.10 (Qualification).
The ad must not appear again in its current form. We told PlusNet to ensure significant conditions of promotions were clear in future and that qualifications accurately reflected the availability of such promotions.