Summary of Council decision:
Two issues were investigated, both of which were Upheld.
A website and a TV ad for TalkTalk, seen on 20 August 2018:
a. The website www.talktalk.co.uk featured the headline "Unlimited Fibre Broadband, with no mid-contract price rises". Further text stated "Plus, we're the only major provider to guarantee no mid-contract broadband price rises on all our plans".
b. The TV ad featured a voice-over which stated, "We're the only major provider to guarantee no mid-contract price rises across all our broadband plans."
The ASA received two complaints.
1. Plusnet Plc and a member of the public challenged whether the claim “we’re the only major provider to guarantee no mid-contract broadband price rises on all our plans” in ad (a) was misleading.
2. Plusnet Plc also challenged whether the claim “We’re the only major provider to guarantee no mid-contract price rises across all our broadband plans” in ad (b) was misleading.
1. & 2. TalkTalk Telecom Ltd said that the major providers of broadband were BT, Sky, Virgin Media and themselves, and of those providers, only they offered fixed prices on all their broadband plans. They said they acknowledged there may be other providers that had fixed price plans, such as Plusnet, but based on their market share they were not a "major provider". They said that from the data available to them, TalkTalk, BT, Sky and Virgin Media had a combined market share of 93% – TalkTalk had the smallest share of those providers and Plusnet’s share of the market was a third of theirs.
Clearcast provided information on the major providers for broadband and television and stated that as those providers held such a share of the market they considered the claim to have been supported.
The ASA considered that consumers would understand the claims in ads (a) and (b) to mean that TalkTalk was the only broadband provider that they would readily identify as one of the leading names in the industry to guarantee no mid-term increase in price on all of their available plans.
We acknowledged the information provided by TalkTalk and noted that their comparison had been made against BT, Sky and Virgin Media. We recognised that amongst that group, it was only TalkTalk that guaranteed no mid-term increase in price across each of their packages.
We noted the claim was unqualified and TalkTalk only provided evidence on their broadband market share. We considered consumers would not generally be aware of the market share of each broadband provider and that there were other factors which influenced whether consumers would consider a company as a “major provider”, such as brand awareness, number of customers and advertising presence.
There was no accepted definition of a “major provider” in the broadband market, although we noted from Ofcom’s Comparing Service Quality 2017 report that Plusnet had been listed as a major provider of broadband. We considered that despite their lower market share, Plusnet provided services to a large number of customers and had a significant advertising presence. In light of that, we considered they would form part of the group of providers that consumers would readily identify as the leading names in the industry. Because Plusnet also offered fixed-price broadband packages, we concluded that the claims in ads (a) and (b) were misleading.
Ad (a) breached CAP Code (Edition 12) rules 3.1 3.1 Advertisements must not materially mislead or be likely to do so. (Misleading advertising) and 3.33 3.33 Advertisements that include a comparison with an identifiable competitor must not mislead, or be likely to mislead, consumers about either the advertised product or service or the competing product or service. (Comparisons).
Ad (b) breached BCAP Code rules 3.1 3.1 Advertisements must not materially mislead or be likely to do so. (Misleading advertising) and 3.33 3.33 Advertisements that include a comparison with an identifiable competitor must not mislead, or be likely to mislead, consumers about either the advertised product or service or the competing product or service. (Comparisons).
The ads must not appear again in their current form. We told TalkTalk Telecom Ltd to ensure that their future advertising did not mislead by claiming to be the only major provider to offer certain benefits if other providers, that consumers would readily identify as leading names in the industry, also provided those benefits.