A website for Utility Warehouse – a phone, broadband and energy provider – www.utilitywarehouse.co.uk , seen on 17 January 2018, featured a page titled “Mobile” with text below which stated “The UK’s best value mobile. We have all the latest handsets on tariffs to suit you. And no in-contract price rises. Guaranteed”. The page featured three different sections. The first section was titled “Overview” and featured the claim “See what makes us different” and contained information about different mobile benefits offered by Utility Warehouse. The second section was titled “Tariffs” and contained information about the different tariffs available. The final section was titled “Handsets” and included information about the different handsets on offer.
The complainant, who understood that other mobile providers had cheaper deals, challenged whether the claim “The UK’s best value mobile” was misleading and could be substantiated.
Utility Warehouse Ltd said the claim should be viewed in the context of the whole web page which set out six different value-added benefits that were integral to their mobile offering and differentiated their offers from their competitors, such as offering 4G at no extra cost, no in-contract price rises, lower out of bundle charges and a budget control feature.
Utility Warehouse provided 12 further examples of value added benefits of their service which they believed showed that they were the UK’s best value mobile. One example included their pre-pay and postpay tariffs which provided interest free credit on the monthly cost of the mobile service. They highlighted that postpay customers were allowed to switch tariffs at any time without penalty, unlike some of their competitors. They also said that they offered a wide range of handsets, the cost of which could be spread over 24 months. Additionally, they highlighted that they were independently recognised by Which? magazine as the Telecoms provider of the year for 2017.
Utility Warehouse said that a number of their competitors did not offer the same value added benefits or offered them at a higher price. They used the example highlighted by the complainant of the competitor who offered cheaper data, minutes and texts than Utility Warehouse. They provided evidence which showed that the competitor offered USA data roaming at £8.00 per MB whereas Utility Warehouse offered it for 50p per MB.
Utility Warehouse highlighted that the best value claim was followed with the text “we have all the latest handsets on tariffs to show you. And no in-contract price rises” which they believed showed that the context of the best value claim was based on the highlighted value added benefits and not in relation to the cost for data, minutes and texts. They pointed out that consumers could only access the tariff page once they had visited the overview tab, which included a list of their value added benefits. They added that the claim was located deep within their website, and in that context, the claim should also be seen as more subjective.
Utility Warehouse said the claim did not mean that they offered the UK’s cheapest mobile deal and that there was no suggestion on the website that they offered cheaper data, minutes text or data. They said that the claim was clearly linked to their range of “value added” benefits. They accepted that price was an important factor to consumers when determining best value but argued that value should be judged in combination with other “value added” benefits and services. They said that given the context of the claim, the nature of the product required more than a basic analysis of cost for data, minutes and texts as reflected on the overview section of the web page. They said that a combination of their mobile services, the pricing of their tariffs, the quality of their customer service and the additional value added benefits demonstrated that they offered the best value mobile in the UK.
The ASA noted that the claim was featured on a web page that included information about benefits of the Utility Warehouse service such as offering 4G at no extra cost and allowing customers to switch tariffs at any time which Utility Warehouse believed differentiated them from competitors. The web page also featured information about the different tariffs and handsets on offer. Whilst we acknowledged that the page featured a number of additional benefits which would be regarded as beneficial by some consumers, we considered that consumers would interpret the claim “The UK’s best value mobile” to relate to the features integral to the nature of a mobile phone service: minutes, texts and data.
Therefore, we considered the claim would be understood by consumers to mean that they would receive more minutes, texts and data allowance on the advertised tariffs than any other UK mobile tariff relative to the costs of the tariff.
We noted that one of Utility Warehouse’s competitors offered more data for the same price tariff and that another competitor offered more data as well as unlimited calls and texts for less than Utility Warehouse. We therefore considered that consumers would regard those tariffs as offering better value than the advertised tariffs. Whilst we welcomed Utility Warehouse’s willingness to change the ad, because they did not offer more data, minutes and texts than all other UK mobile tariffs relative to the costs of the tariffs, we concluded that the claim “the UK’s best value mobile” was misleading.
The ad breached CAP Code rules 3.1 3.1 Marketing communications must not materially mislead or be likely to do so. (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 (Comparisons with identifiable competitors).
The ad must not appear again its current form. We told Utility Warehouse Ltd not to claim they offered the “best value” mobile unless they held evidence to demonstrate that they offered the most data, minutes and texts relative to the cost of the tariff in comparison to all other UK mobile deals.