A TV ad, seen in July 2018, featured Martin Freeman having a telephone conversation with a network provider representative. He stated, "Look, I haven't got the strength to keep arguing with you, I just ... I'm leaving." The representative replied, "Sorry sir, you can't leave, you're still within your contract, unless you wish to pay a penalty fee?" A voice-over then stated, "Breaking up's never easy, but unlike other networks, Vodafone has a 30-day Service Guarantee, so if you don't love us, you can leave us." On-screen text stated, “30 day Service Guarantee On all personal contracts”.
Eleven complainants, who understood that the 30-day Service Guarantee only applied to the first 30 days of a contract, challenged whether the ad misleadingly implied customers could leave their contract at any time.
Vodafone said the statement "… so if you don't love us, you can leave us" in the ad was a specific reference to the start of a customer's relationship with them. They stated that the common way in which a guarantee worked was for a customer to be able to try a service for a period of time at the beginning of a contract. They stated that consumers were familiar with that concept and that the legal small print in the ad, which stated "Terms, exclusions & verification at vodafone.co.uk/serviceguarantee", referred to the online terms which confirmed how the guarantee worked.
Clearcast said that Vodafone wanted to highlight that their service guarantee was for 30 days, whereas others only offered 15 days. They stated that the portrayal of Martin Freeman feeling frustrated was to emphasise frustrations that could be felt with other network providers not giving customers enough time to decide whether their contract was right for them. Clearcast also stated that they recognised that this was an advantage that Vodafone had over other networks and that the ad stipulated which contracts were eligible for the guarantee.
The ad began with the suggestion of a break-up between Martin Freeman’s character and his partner, who was sat in the passenger seat of the car. It then revealed that Martin Freeman was in fact attempting to leave his mobile phone contract. The ASA noted the difficulty shown by Martin Freeman through use of the words “I haven’t got the strength to keep arguing with you”, before stating “I’m leaving”. We considered that difficulty, in context of the ad, implied that issues he had been experiencing with his current service had resulted in him wanting to leave a contract that had been in place for some time, an impression which was furthered by the words “You can’t leave, you’re still within your contract” and "breaking up's never easy". Alongside the voice-over which stated “Vodafone has a 30-day Service Guarantee, so if you don’t love us you can leave us”, we considered that consumers would infer that those difficulties would not be experienced when leaving a contract with Vodafone.
No more information was given on how the 30-day Service Guarantee worked. We considered the ad left it ambiguous as to when it applied, and because of the scenario presented, suggested consumers were entitled to exercise the guarantee at any time. We understood that it in fact acted as a 30-day cooling-off period, whereby consumers were able to leave the service within the first 30 days of the contract. After that point, consumers would face those same difficulties in trying to leave their contract with Vodafone, and whilst we acknowledged Vodafone's reference to the small print which referred to the terms and conditions on the website, we did not consider that this altered the impression presented by the ad.
Therefore, because the ad implied that consumers were entitled to exercise the guarantee at any time and that was not the case, we concluded that the ad was misleading.
The ad breached BCAP Code rules 3.1 (Misleading advertising) and 3.10 (Qualification).
The ad must not appear again in its current form. We told Vodafone Ltd to ensure that their future advertising did not misleadingly imply that their service guarantees applied at any point during a contract other than the cooling-off period.