A direct mailing promoting Virgin Media offers included a booklet. Text on the front cover stated "Your little(ish) book of massive savings on TV, broadband, calls and mobile. Pick the perfect package to suit you, from the offers inside, and pay half price until January next year. Inside the booklet were details of the packages including "TV and calls ... Pay half price until January next year ... Just £4 a month for 6 months then £8 a month with a Virgin Phone line for £14.99 a month". On the reverse of the leaflet footnote text stated "Half price discount not applicable to line rental".
The complainant challenged whether the ad was misleading, because it did not initially make clear that the half price offer did not apply to the line rental charge.
Virgin Media Ltd stated that the headline on the front page of the booklet referred to savings on particular elements of their bundles, namely "TV", "broadband" and "calls", and it was to those elements that the half price offer applied. As such, they had clearly referred to the "calls" element of the bundle, as opposed to "phone". They also said the booklet invited consumers to review the offers inside where the details of the offers, including the elements of the bundle, the price and whether or not line rental was payable, were clearly set out. They said there was no call to action on the front page, and as such, consumers would have to open the booklet, where the offers were clarified, to read the full details.
Notwithstanding the fact that they believed the headline claim was compliant as it clearly referred to elements of the promoted bundles, Virgin Media also highlighted that two out of the seven offers promoted did not require a customer to take line rental, and as such, customers would pay half price for the entire product holding taken under that offer. They therefore considered the claims were in line with the BIS (Department for Business, Innovation and Skills) Pricing Practices Guide.
The ASA noted that text on the cover of the booklet stated "massive savings on TV, broadband, calls and mobile Pick the perfect package to suit you ... and pay half price until January next year". We considered that most consumers reading that text would understand that the booklet contained a number of offers for particular packages and, with no text to the contrary, that the half-price saving would apply to those packages as a whole, including any compulsory line rental charges.
We noted Virgin Media's comments regarding the BIS Pricing Practices Guide and the fact that of the seven offers in the booklet, two did not require a phone line and therefore the half price offer did apply to the entire product. We noted, however, that the ad stated "Pick the perfect package to suit you, from the offers inside, and pay half price until January next year" and maintained that consumers would understand the claim to mean that all the packages within the booklet were available for half price, regardless of whether they included a line rental charge or not. In addition, although we acknowledged that if a consumer read the offers within the booklet they would understand that the half-price offer did not include line rental charges where applicable, we considered that the fact line rental charges were excluded from the saving was significant information which should have been included on the front cover of the booklet. Because we considered that most consumers reading the claims on the front cover of the booklet would understand that the half-price saving applied to all the packages within, and include line rental charges where applicable, we concluded that the ad was misleading and in breach of the Code.
The ad breached CAP Code (Edition 12) 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), 3.10 3.10 Qualifications must be presented clearly.
CAP has published a Help Note on Claims that Require Qualification. (Qualification), 3.18 3.18 Quoted prices must include non-optional taxes, duties, fees and charges that apply to all or most buyers. However, VAT-exclusive prices may be given if all those to whom the price claim is clearly addressed pay no VAT or can recover VAT. Such VAT-exclusive prices must be accompanied by a prominent statement of the amount or rate of VAT payable. and 3.21 3.21 If the price of one product depends on another, marketing communications must make clear the extent of the commitment the consumer must make to obtain the advertised price. (Prices), 8.2 8.2 Promoters must conduct their promotions equitably, promptly and efficiently and be seen to deal fairly and honourably with participants and potential participants. Promoters must avoid causing unnecessary disappointment. (Sales promotions), 8.17 8.17 All marketing communications or other material referring to promotions must communicate all applicable significant conditions or information where the omission of such conditions or information is likely to mislead. Significant conditions or information may, depending on the circumstances, include: and 8.17.1 8.17.1 How to participate
How to participate, including significant conditions and costs, and other major factors reasonably likely to influence consumers' decision or understanding about the promotion (Significant Conditions for Promotions).
The ad must not appear again in its current form. We told Virgin Media Ltd to make clear if line rental charges were excluded from their offers in future.