A national press ad for TalkTalk Telecom Ltd stated in large print "Britain's best value unlimited TV broadband and phone"; smaller print stated "compared to Sky, Virgin and BT†". Text, next to icons beneath, stated "Unlimited Access to 7 day catch up - 74 Freeview channels Pause 7 record - Unlimited Download allowance & calls* - Flexible Monthly Sky Sports 7 Sky movies boosts+". To the right of the page text enclosed in a bubble stated "£14.50 a month - £14.50 monthly line rental applies".
Small print at the bottom of the page stated "...†Britain's Best Value 18 month subscription cost comparison of TalkTalk Plus TV, broadband & phone with Value Line Rental to: BT TV Essentials, more Broadband & Evening & Weekend Calls, 12 month min. term. £18/month (current promo £5 for the first 6 months) plus activation: £49 & monthly equivalent line rental: £10.75. Sky Broadband Lite with Sky Talk Weekends & Sky TV Entertainment pack with 40 channels & Sky Go, 12 month min. term; £21.50/month plus router delivery: £2.18 & monthly equivalent line rental: £9.50. Virgin Media TV M+ with Broadband L and Phone M (incl. Virgin TV with 83 channels), 18 month min. term. £18/month (current promo half price for 6 months) plus installation: £49.95 & monthly equivalent line rental: £10. Comparison based on standard pricing excluding promotions. Details correct at time of going to print 30.10.12".
British Sky Broadcasting Ltd (Sky) challenged whether the claim "Britain's best value unlimited TV broadband and phone compared to Sky, Virgin and BT" was misleading.
TalkTalk Telecom Ltd (TalkTalk) considered that the claim "Britain's best value unlimited TV broadband and phone compared to Sky, Virgin and BT" would be viewed as relating only to the price of the various packages compared, regardless of the existence or prominence of any accompanying price claim regarding the service. They stated that all of their advertising was aimed at customers seeking a low cost package, because they always sought to provide the best value packages available in the market. They said their low price position, which had resulted from their history of offering low prices and exceptional value, was well understood by consumers. Their surveys of new customers showed that the majority of respondents joined TalkTalk because of the prices they offered. They stated that the low cost context within which all consumers placed TalkTalk ads meant that the "best value" claim should be interpreted to mean "cheapest".
TalkTalk stated that the comparison made in the ad was based on the premise that a customer wanting TV, phone and broadband would choose a "triple play" package bundled by a single provider so as to achieve the best value for money and that before selecting that provider they would compare the triple play offerings available to them. TalkTalk said they had established a reputation for being a provider of value-based products and that reputation was built on the fact that their prices were among the lowest in the market. They stated that consumers considering the TalkTalk triple play service were necessarily considering low cost offerings.
TalkTalk pointed out that details of the comparison made in the ad were set out in the small print, which also explicitly stated that it was based on standard pricing, excluding promotions. They had, nevertheless, included relevant information regarding their competitors' promotions in order to provide consumers with transparency regarding the deals available in the market at the time. They provided a spreadsheet comparing the cost of each package mentioned in the ad over a 12-month period, which they said showed that their triple play package was the cheapest.
Sky believed that the claim "Britain's best value unlimited TV broadband and phone compared to Sky, Virgin and BT" was misleading because, in the context in which it was used, it implied that TalkTalk offered a product of comparable quality to the named competitors but at a lower price. They noted that the words "unlimited TV" were larger than any others in the ad and considered that consumers would in particular draw the impression from the ad that the TV element of TalkTalk's product was of at least comparable quality to the other TV services featured. They asserted that that was not the case, as their TV service included 37 pay channels not available with the TalkTalk package, as well as over 200 free channels, compared to Talk Talk's 74.
The ASA understood that TalkTalk intended the claim "Britain's best value unlimited TV broadband and phone" to relate to a comparison based on price alone. We considered a "best value" claim, rather than always being interchangeable with the word "cheapest", would generally imply a comparison of the nature of the products offered as well as their prices. We acknowledged TalkTalk's argument that all of their advertising was aimed at customers seeking a low cost telecoms package and that, because they had a reputation as a provider of low cost services, consumers would understand the claim "Britain's best value ..." to relate to a comparison against their competitors' prices only. However, in our view a claim to provide the "best value" product or service could imply a comparison restricted to price alone only if it was presented in such a way as to make that context clear to the consumers reading the ad.
We noted that the largest claim in the ad was "unlimited TV", which appeared immediately under the words "Britain's best value" and was given added prominence because it was written in colour, as opposed to white as with the surrounding text. The price of the package - "£14.50 a month - £14.50 monthly line rental applies" - was situated on the other side of the ad, away from the "best value" claim and the list of the package's features. We therefore considered that the emphasis in the ad was on the features of the TalkTalk triple play package, which were denoted as being "Unlimited Access to 7 day catch up", "74 Freeview channels Pause & record", "Unlimited Download allowance & calls" and "Flexible Monthly Sky Sports & Sky Movies boosts", rather than on price.
Although we noted that small print linked to the words "compared to Sky, Virgin and BT" stated "Britain's Best Value 18 month subscription cost comparison", we considered that the main body of the ad placed greater prominence on the elements of the package itself, and in particular because the words "unlimited TV" were the largest text on the page. In that context, we considered that consumers would be likely to understand that price was only one aspect of the comparison being made by TalkTalk, and would consequently expect the TV, broadband and phone elements of the TalkTalk package to be comparable with those offered by Sky, Virgin and BT. We understood that the TV element of Sky's triple play package included significantly more channels than TalkTalk's, some of which were pay channels, and considered consumers were unlikely to regard that element of the two packages as comparable. Because the "best value" claim was not adequately qualified to make clear it related to a comparison of package prices only, and because we understood that the features of the packages being compared were not in all cases comparable, we concluded that the claim "Britain's best value unlimited TV broadband and phone compared to Sky, Virgin and BT" was misleading.
The ad breached CAP Code (Edition12) rules
Marketing communications must not materially mislead or be likely to do so.
Marketing communications must not mislead the consumer by omitting material information. They must not mislead by hiding material information or presenting it in an unclear, unintelligible, ambiguous or untimely manner.
Material information is information that the consumer needs to make informed decisions in relation to a product. Whether the omission or presentation of material information is likely to mislead the consumer depends on the context, the medium and, if the medium of the marketing communication is constrained by time or space, the measures that the marketer takes to make that information available to the consumer by other means. (Misleading advertising), 3.7 3.7 Before distributing or submitting a marketing communication for publication, marketers must hold documentary evidence to prove claims that consumers are likely to regard as objective and that are capable of objective substantiation. The ASA may regard claims as misleading in the absence of adequate substantiation. (Substantiation) and 3.33 3.33 Marketing communications that include a comparison with an identifiable competitor must not mislead, or be likely to mislead, the consumer about either the advertised product or the competing product. and 3.35 3.35 They must objectively compare one or more material, relevant, verifiable and representative feature of those products, which may include price. (Comparisons with identifiable competitors).
The ad must not appear again in its current form. We told TalkTalk Telecom Ltd to ensure that in future they qualified "best value" claims to make clear that the comparison was based on price alone.