A regional press ad by TalkTalk for its broadband packages was headlined "Britain's Best Deals on totally unlimited broadband packages". The ad featured three different broadband packages offered by TalkTalk and each included pricing details and a savings claim featured on a price tag. Each price tag explained the savings claim had been based on a comparison with BT over 18 months and referred consumers to the small print at the bottom of the ad.
For their "Totally unlimited broadband" package, text stated "£3.50 [struck through], NOW FREE for 12 months. £16.70 monthly line rental applies" and the tag stated "SAVE UP TO £188 vs BT over 18 months*". Text for their "Totally unlimited fibre broadband" package stated "£13.50 [struck through] NOW £5.00 a month for 12 months. £16.70 monthly line rental applies" and the tag stated "SAVE UP TO £162 vs BT over 18 months†". Text for their "TV, broadband, anytime calls + mobile SIM" package stated "£18.50 [struck through] NOW £9.25 a month for 12 months. £16.70 monthly line rental applies" and the tag stated "SAVE UP TO £247 vs BT over 18 months‡".
Towards the bottom of the ad, text stated "BestDealsOnline". Immediately beneath that text, it stated "18 mth min term.*†‡Based on TalkTalk&BT's promotional pricing. Britain's best deal comparisons based over 18 mths."
Small print explained the basis of the price comparison and provided current online prices and promotions offered by Sky and BT for each of the advertised packages. It also explained the basis of each of the savings claims highlighted in the ‘price tags' for the package.
Sky challenged whether the claim "Britain's BEST DEALS on totally unlimited broadband packages" was misleading and could be substantiated because Sky was cheaper over its 12-month minimum contract term than TalkTalk over the same time period.
TalkTalk Telecom Ltd said the price comparisons and the headline claim were based on their 18-month minimum term contract. However, the promotional prices quoted in the ad were available for the first 12 months only of a new customer's minimum 18-month contract. They said they had made comparisons over an 18-month period because all of their fixed line packages had an 18-month minimum term. For that reason, they believed it was the best comparison they could give consumers. They acknowledged Sky offered some 12-month broadband packages, but its comparable fibre packages were also over 18 months. They considered a comparison over a 12-month period would be disingenuous given that both Sky and TalkTalk customers would still be within their minimum contract terms.
TalkTalk understood the minimum contract term was a significant factor for consumers and therefore, it was repeatedly stated in the ad, twice within the body copy, on each of the 'price tags' and in the small print. They said that the claim "BestDealsOnline" towards the bottom of the ad was immediately qualified underneath and that qualification was followed by the text "Britain's best deal comparisons based over 18mths". Furthermore, they believed the headline claim of "Britain's Best Deals" was fully detailed in the small print which explained the basis of the comparison with Sky and BT's most comparable products and, which again referred to the 18-month period. In addition, they believed it had also been appropriately qualified through the references made in the body copy, and that the qualification was sufficiently prominent because of its proximity to the telephone number and web address. For that reason, they believed also that consumers would give the qualification their attention. They had chosen those particular BT and Sky products because they were the only other providers to offer broadband services which they considered were not subject to limits, control or network interference.
TalkTalk therefore believed the basis of the comparison had been made clear and that it had been made on the best basis for consumers. Consequently, they believed the ad contained relevant and material information which allowed consumers to make an informed decision, and as such, the ad did not breach the Code.
The ASA considered the headline claim "Britain's Best Deals on totally unlimited broadband packages" was a comparative one which was likely to be interpreted by consumers as a lowest price claim. The body copy of the ad repeatedly made clear and prominent references to the cost of those packages over 12 months which we also considered created the impression that for each of the advertised packages, TalkTalk were the cheapest over 12 months.
Sky offered its customers a 12-month minimum contract term for its totally unlimited broadband service and we understood that over 12 months, Sky were cheaper for that particular package than TalkTalk. We acknowledged that over 18 months, TalkTalk was cheaper than Sky for all three advertised packages and noted the ad stated that the comparison was based on an 18-month period, both in small text above the small print and within the small print itself. Although we acknowledged the headline claim had been qualified in the ad, we considered it was not sufficiently prominent because of its location and could be overlooked by consumers, especially in the context of an ad containing detailed pricing information. Consequently, we considered the qualification should have been more prominent so it could be read in conjunction with the headline claim, for example, located within the body copy where it detailed the prices for each package. Because we considered the ad also implied that "Britain's BEST DEALS on totally unlimited broadband packages" applied to the cost over 12 months, and TalkTalk was not the cheapest for all of the advertised packages over that period, we concluded the claim was misleading.
The ad breached CAP Code (Edition 12) rules
Marketing communications must not materially mislead or be likely to do so.
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.
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.
They must objectively compare one or more material, relevant, verifiable and representative feature of those products, which may include price.
(Comparisons with identifiable competitors) and
Marketing communications that include a price comparison must make the basis of the comparison clear.
CAP has published a Help Note on Retailers' Price Comparisons and a Help Note on Lowest Price Claims and Price Promises. (Price comparisons).
We told TalkTalk Telecom Ltd to ensure that when making price comparisons they made sufficiently clear the contract period over which they were calculated.