A TV ad for Currys PC World, seen between 5 and 14 December 2020, began with a woman holding a worn-looking stuffed elephant and comparing it to a website listing for a similar stuffed elephant, followed by another woman saying “For your mum!”, as she showed a board game to a man who responded with an unenthusiastic smile. Another man was then shown typing at a computer, looking quizzically at listings for wireless headphones. A voice-over stated, “Shouldn’t Christmas gifting be a bit less …” as the man at the computer gave an exasperated groan. A woman was then shown on a video call to a Currys PC employee who said, “So that is all your family’s gifts, then. You can buy now and pay later if you’d like.” The voice-over continued, “… and a bit more …” as a number of people were shown exclaiming “oooh” excitedly as they opened presents such as laptops, games consoles and a large OLED TV. The voice-over concluded, “Give everyone you love a little ‘oooh’ this Christmas. Buy now, pay nothing for six months. At Currys PC World”, as large on-screen text stated “Pay nothing for 6 months. 24.9% APR representative (variable)”.
On-screen text shown during the ad included “Pay nothing for 6 months. Pay full balance by month 6 to avoid any interest. 24.9% APR representative (variable). 18+ £99+. Ts & Cs apply. DSG Retail Limited is a credit broker, credit is provided by Creation Consumer Finance Ltd. Credit subject to status”.
IssueFive viewers, who believed the ad encouraged the use of credit to finance excessive spending on Christmas goods at a time when many people were struggling financially, challenged whether the ad was irresponsible.
DSG Retail Ltd t/a Currys PC World said they believed consumers were likely to understand that the ad was promoting their finance package, which was an option to pay for purchases within six months with no interest payable. They considered the ad was likely to be interpreted as referring to the benefits of Buy Now Pay Later (BNPL), rather than encouraging consumers in financial difficulty to make excessive purchases through credit without careful consideration. They highlighted that the ad showed a customer speaking to one of their Shop Live agents who, through a one-on-one video call, could help customers choose the right products for them. They said it was only at the end of the call, after the consumer had selected products to purchase, that the Shop Live colleague in the ad suggested using pay later credit as an option, stating “if you’d like.”
Currys PC World said the ad promoted Christmas gift ideas, such as a Google Nest mini, games consoles and hair products, and each purchase featured was made by different families, as opposed to one customer making multiple purchases on credit. They said the ad was not shot with the intention of targeting vulnerable groups who could be perceived as struggling financially, using BNPL (buy now pay later) to finance goods which they could not afford. They therefore believed the reference of “Give everyone you love a little ‘oooh’ this Christmas. Buy now, pay nothing for six months" was unlikely to be seen as encouraging excessive spending for those financially struggling, especially given that it related to a specific period when customers might be looking for Christmas gifts and considering all options, including spreading the costs. They also said they were regulated by the Financial Conduct Authority (FCA) for their credit brokering activity, and their BNPL offering was conducted with appropriate customer and affordability checks in line with FCA rules and principles. They said the credit provider they worked with was a major, reputable, global bank that also complied with FCA regulation, and took appropriate actions to minimise the risk of customer over-indebtedness. They said more than 50% of customers who selected BNPL as a payment option with them paid off the full balance within the promotional period, and all 15,000 frontline staff were trained to sell credit responsibly and compliantly, and to recognise vulnerable customers.
Clearcast said did they did not believe the ad was socially irresponsible for several reasons. Firstly, they considered the ad was not targeted at vulnerable groups, and instead presented a comparison between ‘bad’ gift buyers, and those who had better options provided by Currys PC World. They said the ad did not suggest that the bad gift buyers couldn’t afford good presents, but that they could find the Christmas presents they actually wanted through Currys PC World. For example, they said the man searching for wireless headphones was not frustrated because he could not afford them, but was disappointed by the multitude of options he saw and was unable to narrow down the options, like he could at Currys PC World.
Clearcast also highlighted that the ad did not encourage excessive spending because each person featured had only bought one gift. They also believed that the BNPL offer advertised was less financially risky to consumers than taking out a loan using traditional credit, because there was no interest or requirement to make a payment for six months. They said this differed to taking out a loan to buy a product and paying much more than originally advertised, once the interest was added. Clearcast said they did not believe the ad encouraged people to spend at a time when they were in financial difficulty, and the advertiser was making consumers aware of their purchasing options in the ad. They said consumers naturally spent more money at Christmas, and some customers wished to cover the cost over six months. Clearcast said they understood that there was an important difference between wanting to manage spending and not being able to afford something.
The ASA understood that the deferred payment option referenced in the ad, often known as ‘BNPL’, was a form of credit which was an optional payment method for items from Currys PC World, and allowed for payment to be delayed by six months with no interest fees payable. Any balance left to pay after six months would incur interest at 24.9% APR representative from the date of purchase. We understood the product was FCA-regulated. The first part of the ad, featuring people responding unenthusiastically to products such as a stuffed toy, a chess set and wireless headphones, juxtaposed the second part which showed people opening Christmas presents including a Lenovo branded box, a Google Nest mini, a Nintendo console and an LG OLED TV, and excitedly saying “oooh!”. In between, a woman who appeared to have already selected her family’s Christmas presents was offered the optional BNPL payment method, and she smiled and said “oooh”. We considered the combination of the sequence of those scenes and the voice-over statement, “Give everyone you love a little ‘oooh’ this Christmas. Buy now, pay nothing for six months” would lead viewers to understand that the dissatisfied individuals in the first part of the ad had not used or considered a ‘pay later’ method to buy or search for those items, but that the gifts shown in the second part of the ad had been purchased using the ‘pay later’ credit option with Currys PC World.
We considered the statement “if you’d like” by the Currys PC World employee when referencing the BNPL option did not significantly alter that core message. We acknowledged that each scenario in the ad only featured one gift being purchased or received by any individual or household. However, we considered that the ad suggested the initial Christmas gift choices purchased without ‘pay later’ credit in the first part of the ad were unsatisfactory, because the gift-givers expressed disappointment or frustration. In contrast, the products gifted in the second part of the ad were generally more expensive and luxurious than those which featured in the first part, and received very positive reactions. Therefore we considered the ad’s messaging explicitly connected the use of a form of credit with deferred payment to buying more expensive gifts, and making people’s loved ones happy with their presents at Christmas as a result. Particularly in the context of the global pandemic and the associated financial difficulties for many people, we concluded the ad irresponsibly encouraged the use of credit to finance excessive spending on Christmas gifts, and was in breach of the Code.
The ad breached BCAP Code rule 1.2 1.2 Advertisements must be prepared with a sense of responsibility to the audience and to society. (Responsible advertising).
The ad must not appear again in the form complained about. We told DSG Retail Ltd t/a Currys PC World to ensure that future ads did not irresponsibly encourage excessive spending through the use of credit, particularly in relation to purchasing higher value Christmas gifts with a ‘pay later’ payment method.