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ASA UK Ban TalkTalk Broadband Ad After BT Moan of Misleading Sale Price

Wednesday, February 25th, 2015 (7:50 am) - Score 1,072

The Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) has sided with an interesting BT complaint against a press advert for TalkTalk’s SimplyBroadband package, which complained that a “half-price” offer of £1.75 per month was “not a genuine sale price” because the standard price of £3.50 had not been used for long enough.

The ruling, which could have implications for other ISPs that make similar discounts, appears to touch on the issue of what we call ‘furniture store sale tactics‘ and follows a similar complaint that was upheld against Virgin Media last year (here). In essence, if a package has been subject to repeated discounts that run for long periods then it eventually becomes difficult to identify the true ‘standard’ price.

In this instance BT pointed to how TalkTalk’s press advert was making the following offer: “12 MONTHS HALF PRICE Totally Unlimited Broadband … Was £3.50 Package now only £1.75 a month.” BT felt as if this was misleading because it was “not a genuine sale price“, which seems to be largely due to so many similar discounts coming before it for the same package.

ASA Ruling (Ref: A14-277849)

The ASA considered consumers would interpret the claim “Was £3.50 Package now only £1.75 a month” to mean that £3.50 was the usual selling price of the package at the time the ad appeared, meaning that TalkTalk had reduced the usual price by half and customers could benefit from a £1.75 saving.

While we acknowledged TalkTalk provided details of the price of the product over one year, and that it had varied between £1.75 and £3.50 during that time, because we understood pricing within the telecommunications sector fluctuated regularly, we considered the product’s more recent pricing history was most directly relevant to the usual selling price.

While the package had been priced at £3.50 for 18 days immediately prior to the half-price promotional period, it was priced at £1.75 for approximately the preceding two and a half months. We therefore considered £1.75 was the usual selling price of the product at the time the ad appeared. Because the ad was likely to be understood to mean the usual selling price was £3.50, whereas that was not the case, we concluded that it was misleading.

As usual the ASA banned the advert in its current form and told TalkTalk to “ensure they were in a position to substantiate future savings claims likely to be understood to represent the usual selling price of a product“.

A quick check of TalkTalk’s website today shows that their SimplyBroadband package is now at £1.75 per month for the first 6 months (half-price vs the £3.50 ‘standard’ price), yet before that it was on a 12 months free promotion. Tricky. It’s worth noting that BT also complained about TalkTalk’s “Half Price Superpowered Fibre” offer, although the ASA found no fault with that one and BT’s complaint was rejected.

In fairness the big ISPs all deserve some praise for managing to avoid the gaze of ASA officials, at least since the start of this year, which is in stark contrast to previous years where not a week seemed to go by without at least one provider suffering an ad ban. Perhaps our article on 2014’s worst advertising offenders in the broadband ISP market has had a small impact (here).

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By Mark Jackson
Mark is a professional technology writer, IT consultant and computer engineer from Dorset (England), he also founded ISPreview in 1999 and enjoys analysing the latest telecoms and broadband developments. Find me on Twitter, , Facebook and Linkedin.
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