O2 and Three get into bother with the ASA

BT, Three and O2 have all been in the doghouse with the Advertising Standards Authority (ASA). However, although BT has been let off, O2 has been given a slap on the wrist.

O2 landed itself in the firing line after its customers complained about an email it sent out, which stated: “Thanks for playing O2 Top-Up Surprises. And for picking our Concierge Travel saver offer. To get going with a £150 per person discount, just visit yourtimeaway.co.uk and choose your holiday from the range on offer”.

However one customer took offence to this and told the ASA that  the maximum available discount was £80. She added that some of the holidays to which the offer applied were available to members of the public to purchase at the same price without the e-mail voucher, and therefore said that the ad was misleading, because she did not believe the £150 per person discount was genuine.

O2 tried to fight its corner claiming that the offer enabled some customers, who had played O2 Top-up Surprises, to select a discount of £150 per person on a range of holidays through Concierge Affinity Travel (Concierge).

It said Concierge obtained the discounts for O2 and in order to ensure that only holidays with the minimum value discount of £150 were selected for the promotion, sourced up-to-date information from Thompson Holidays. O2 said Concierge was supplied with a weekly updated spreadsheet -containing details of the available holidays and the associated discount rates. Concierge then selected a range of holidays with a minimum available discount of £150 per person.

O2 said it was unsure why the complainant could only find a maximum discount of £80 off her chosen holidays, but told her she was barmy – believing that she may have made an error when searching the offers.

Concierge said it selected a range of holidays with a discount of £150 from a list supplied to them and then updated its website on a weekly basis. It explained that its website contained a list of the £150 discount offers as well as a list of good value holidays, available for under £250, under £350 and so forth, and a list of special offers and the £150 discount offer did not apply to the good value holidays and special offers, and believed the complainant may have been looking at those parts of their website when searching for the O2 offer.

However the ASA wasn’t having any of it, and decided that e-mail should not be used again in its current form.

It was a different story for BT, which got off scot-free following an ASA investigation after a member of the public complained about a TV that showed people using mobile phones and iPads in various locations, including outside a pub, a bus station, a park bench and a car park next to an urban football ground.

A voice-over said: “Only BT broadband customers can use their home broadband out of the home for free. Thanks to our network of over two million Wi-Fi hotspots. Find out more at bt.com/freewifi, and download our new app.” On-screen text stated “subject to availability. Requires opt-in & wireless equipment. Fair Use Policy applies. Android & iPhone apps available. iPad app launches 1st December”

It got complaints by two people who grassed the company up to the ASA claiming that service’s potential to work away from buildings and in open spaces was limited. They queried whether the shown locations misleadingly exaggerated the capability of the service.

BT fought back claiming that in fact customers could connect online when away from their home broadband connection through Openzone hotspots or FON hotspots. It said the ad showed users accessing the internet on mobile devices in scenes that were not recognisable locations but representative of the types of areas that could be hotspots as well as providing two reports that summarised the coverage of the BT Home Hub for BT FON customers. This it seems was enough to get the company off the hook, with the ASA claiming it had not upheld the complaint.

Unfortunately Hutchinson 3G UK (Three) wasn’t so lucky getting into trouble for a regional press ad, for mobile phones, which said: “Better for smartphones”. It included an image of a smartphone, which displayed icons including ‘value’, ‘speed’ and ‘satisfaction’. Text below stated “Don’t just take our word for it. We’re rated No.1 network for mobile internet speed and value by smartphone users”. The ad included the YouGov logo and small print stated “All figures are from the independent YouGov Smartphone, mobile internet, experience report wave 4 (Sept 10)”.

This offended one customer who asked whether claims “Better for smartphones” and ” … No.1 network for mobile internet speed and value … ” were misleading and could be substantiated. He also pointed out that the ad was misleading because it did not set out how the comparison could be verified.

Like BT and O2, Three jumped on the defensive claiming that the ad made clear the claims were based on the results of a YouGov Smartphone mobile internet experience report. 

It said the survey collected information on a range of factors, including customer satisfaction with their mobile network operator in the general categories quality, satisfaction and value for money. Participants were also asked to give feedback on nine more specific areas.

It said the text “Better for smartphones” clearly related to the speed and value claims and did not imply it was better overall or the best mobile network operator.

However it wasn’t wiling to share its sources claiming that the full YouGov report was not a publicly available document. YouGov requested that operators make the source of the information clear if they made reference to it. It would also not disclose how the networks performed against each other.

The ASA was mildly satisfied with the plea claiming that the text “Better for smartphones” was intended to relate only to the subsequent speed and value claims and that the report indicated Three had performed best in areas related to speed and in the value category. It also said the ad had explanatory text “Dont just take our word for it” and smartphone icons labelled speed and value. With this in mind it concluded that the ad was not misleading.

However, Three wasn’t lucky with the part about, “Better for smartphones” and ” … No.1 network for mobile internet speed and value … “. The ASA said these were likely to be understood by consumers to compare Threes products and services with those of their competitors.

The watchdog noted the ad included Three’s web address and reference to the YouGov report. But the report was not publicly available and details of the comparison were not available on the Three website.

It was also suspicious that although YouGov could confirm the categories in which Three had been ranked top it was not made clear in the ad – and further details of how the comparison was arrived at were not available. This was enough for the watchdog to tell Three that the ad  should not appear again in its current form.