Summary of Council decision:
Two issues were investigated, of which one was Upheld and one was Not upheld.
A direct mailing from Virgin Media promoted an offer for new customers and included a letter and brochure. The letter included a section headed "Special offer for you" which was set out in the style of a sales receipt and stated "TiVo box ... (No upfront cost with all of our collections): £00.00 HD channels included at no extra cost: £00.00 BT Sport and ESPN channels (included with the Premiere Collection). Sky TV and broadband customers are charged £15 a month and a one-off £15 activation fee: £00.00 Extra HD box ... (included with our Premiere Collection): £00.00 Catch Up TV included ... £00.00 TV On Demand included on selected bundles ... £00.00 Servicing and repairs included No expensive repair plans or call-out charges: £00.00 Superfast fibre optic broadband included as standard with all broadband packages Red Hot Savings for 6 months 28-day money back guarantee SAVING WORTH UP TO £162". At the bottom of the mailing, there was a detachable coupon which stated "Save up to £162 ... 6 months of savings TV, broadband, calls and mobile. Pick 2, 3, or all 4. Prices start from just £5 a month. When you switch to a Virgin Phone line for £15.99 a month or £128 upfront for a year, saving £63.88". The brochure included more information about the bundles on offer and their promotional prices.
BT challenged whether the claims:
1. "Special offer for you" and the repeated claims that elements of the offer cost "£00.00" misleadingly implied that those elements had been subject to a price reduction and were now offered for free, whereas they understood that a charge was levied for each and reflected in the package price; and
2. "Pick 2, 3 or all 4 ... Prices start from just £5 a month" misleadingly implied that a consumer could purchase a combination of 2, 3 or 4 of Virgin's TV, broadband, calls or mobile packages from £5, which they understood was not the case.
1. Virgin Media Ltd did not believe that the wording of the ad gave the impression that there had been a price reduction for the elements listed. They said the various references to "£00.00" were not, on their own, a price comparison as there was no mention of a previous or other price for the services. The "£00.00" references were included on the material to reflect that there was no additional cost for those services being provided within the bundle being advertised. In addition, they believed that the use of the word "included" after a number of the items, further explained that no price comparison was intended.
Notwithstanding the above, Virgin Media said the reference to "special offer for you" was intended to refer to the inclusion of various elements at no extra cost within the bundle being advertised. Some of those elements were offered on an inclusive basis exclusively for the recipients of the mailing.
2. Virgin Media said customers were able to obtain two of the services from £5 a month. They thought that was clear from the text in the ad.
The ASA understood that the mailing had been sent to those who were not currently Virgin Media customers but lived in Virgin Media cabled streets. We noted that the repeated "£00.00" claims appeared under the heading "Special offer for you" and considered that consumers reading the claims would believe that all the items listed had been discounted as part of the "Special offer". In addition, we noted that the claim "SAVING WORTH UP TO £162" appeared under the list and considered consumers might believe that £162 was the total cost of the listed package features when charged at their standard, non-promotional price. We understood, however, that the saving of £162 related to the amount consumers could save as a result of signing up to Virgin Media's Premiere bundle. Whilst we noted Virgin Media's assertion that some of the elements listed had been included in the bundle at no extra cost, we understood that some of the other elements were simply offered as standard, and therefore their cost was accounted for in the bundle price. In addition, whilst we noted that some of the claims stated "included", or "included with our Premiere Collection", we still considered that the overall impression of the "£00.00" claims, particularly given their prominence in comparison to the explanatory text, was that the listed features of the bundle had been discounted to "£00.00" as part of the special offer. Because that was not the case, we concluded that the price claims were misleading.
The ad breached CAP Code (Edition 12) rules 3.1 3.1 Marketing communications must not materially mislead or be likely to do so. (Misleading advertising), 3.17 3.17 Price statements must not mislead by omission, undue emphasis or distortion. They must relate to the product featured in the marketing communication. (Prices) and 3.25 3.25 Marketers must not describe an element of a package as "free" if that element is included in the package price unless consumers are likely to regard it as an additional benefit because it has recently been added to the package without increasing its price. (Free).
2. Not upheld
We noted that the ad highlighted the various services offered by Virgin Media, and then stated "Pick 2, 3 or all 4. Prices start from just £5 a month". We considered that most consumers reading the ad would understand that the price was dependent on which bundle they chose, and that the price claim "from just £5 a month" related to the smallest bundles. In addition, we noted that the enclosed brochure clearly stated all the available bundles and their corresponding prices. Therefore, we considered that consumers would understand that the starting price of "from just £5" related to a bundle of two services and concluded that the claim was not misleading.
We investigated the ad under 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), 3.17 3.17 Price statements must not mislead by omission, undue emphasis or distortion. They must relate to the product featured in the marketing communication. and 3.22 3.22 Price claims such as "up to" and "from" must not exaggerate the availability or amount of benefits likely to be obtained by the consumer. (Prices), but did not find it in breach.
The ad must not appear in its current form again. We told Virgin Media Ltd to ensure that they did not imply that elements of their bundles had been discounted, or offered for free, if that was not the case.