A TV ad for BT, seen on 11 May 2017, advertised broadband packages. The voice-over stated, "The welcome discount on BT Unlimited Broadband has just got bigger. We'll now give you a discount of over 30%". Large text across the screen stated "BIGGER DISCOUNT" followed by "NOW OVER 30% DISCOUNT". Small text at the bottom of the screen stated "Prices may change. New customers. 12 mth term. £40.99/mth from mth 13. Welcome discount was 27% now 34% vs existing unlimited customer price £40.99/mth. Pay D.D. Subject to availability. Terms apply."
The voice-over continued, "... it's an amazing £26.99 a month on a 12-month contract. Join online and we'll also give you a £100 reward card to spend." The "mastercard" logo appeared across the screen followed by large text which stated "mastercard. £100 BT REWARD CARD" and "£9.99 upfront". Small text at the bottom of the screen stated "BT Reward Card is issued by Blackhawk Network (UK) Ltd, pursuant to license by Mastercard International Inc. Claim your card once broadband's installed via [BT website address]. Terms apply [second BT website address]".
The complainant, who found the small on-screen text difficult to read but believed it included important information about the offer being advertised, challenged whether the text was sufficiently legible and whether the qualifications were presented clearly.
Clearcast believed the on-screen text met technical specifications and was in line with what had previously been found to comply with the Code. Clearcast pointed out that the text appeared against an opaque, black background.
BCAP guidance stated, in the interests of clear communication to viewers, text in conventional television advertising should be kept to a minimum. Where messages were long, complicated or obscurely expressed, it would be unrealistic to expect viewers to be able to absorb them, even if the text did otherwise meet the technical requirements in the guidelines. In such cases the ASA might still conclude that the ad, taken as a whole, did not comply with the Code.
The ASA noted that the ad contained two offers. The first related to a "welcome discount ... of over 30%". On-screen text at that point in the ad stated, among other things, that the offer applied to the first 12 months, after which the price would rise to £40.99 per month. The voice-over merged straight into the second offer, which related to a £100 reward card for customers who joined online. On-screen text at that point stated, among other things, the name of the company that issued the card and that the reward card was to be claimed after the broadband was installed. We considered that in both cases the on-screen text contained material information about the offers.
We considered that in both cases the text was of a height, had a contrast and was held on-screen for a length of time that complied with the BCAP guidance in relation to those aspects. However, there were other points in the guidance that had not been followed, such as keeping text to a minimum; avoiding large blocks of text; avoiding abbreviations; ensuring that, in blocks of text, the ends of sentences or phrases coincided with the ends of lines and ensuring that important qualifications to principal offers did not normally appear only in on-screen text.
The time the text was on-screen coincided with several visual effects at the same time as the voice-over. In the first case, these included pulsing sound/radio waves; a computer screen, laptop and phone all of which contained text or animated landscapes and all of which took up most of the screen and moved across it. In the second case, the visual effects included pulsing sound/radio waves and a circular effect around the mastercard logo, which again took up most of the screen and moved across it at the same time as the voice-over. The width of the second lot of text had also been compressed, such that the words appeared tall but also narrow, which we considered made it harder to read.
We considered that while the on-screen text was of a height, had a contrast and was held on-screen for a length of time that complied with the BCAP guidance in relation to those aspects, the on-screen text was being used to communicate two different offers in conjunction with other important visual information and voice-over that were likely to take precedence in the minds of viewers. In addition the width of the second lot of text had been compressed, which we considered made it harder to read. Because of those factors, we considered that the text was not sufficiently legible and that material information was not presented clearly.
We therefore concluded that the ad was likely to mislead.
The ad breached BCAP Code rules 3.1 and 3.2 (Misleading advertising) and 3.11 (Qualification).
The ad must not appear again in its current form. We told BT to ensure that material information was presented clearly in their advertising.