ASA bans 'misleading' O2 and BT adverts

(Image credit: Shutterstock / ImYanis)

The Advertising Standards Authority has banned ‘misleading’ adverts from both O2 and BT following complaints from rival telcos and, in the latter’s case, members of the public.

Last year, O2 ran a campaign on its website that stated its ‘Refresh’ custom plans would not charge customers for a handset they had already paid for through the minimum term of their contract.

O2 Refresh separates the handset and airtime elements of a tariff so that subscribers only pay the latter once the initial contract period has expired.

O2 Refresh

As part of the campaign, the operator also provided a calculator that allowed visitors to enter their current network so O2 could ‘calculate’ the potential savings by switching to O2. Another advert on YouTube made similar claims about other operators overcharging for handsets.

Three objected, arguing the calculator did not reflect actual costs and did not make clear what was being compared. Meanwhile, Virgin Media said the campaigns implied other operators did not offer custom plans when in fact both Virgin and Sky did at the time.

O2 argued that the comparison was like-for-like, that the averagely-informed customer was capable of understanding the costs, and reiterated that the calculations offered were illustrative. It also refuted that the advert implied that ‘Refresh’ was the only custom plan offering on the market.

The ASA disagreed and said the adverts did not make it clear that the calculator would take the costs of an ongoing bundled contract and would compare these with an unbundled contract.

“We told [O2] to ensure that their advertising did not suggest that they were the only provider that offered unbundled contracts or that they did not offer bundled contracts,” said the ASA. “We also told them not to compare the costs of bundled contracts with unbundled contracts unless they made the nature of that comparison clear. We also told them not to make comparative claims based on speculative figures and not to imply that other networks did not offer unbundled plans.”

(Image credit: Future)

BT Wi-Fi advert

In a separate case, BT has been ordered not to run an advert that made claims about the Wi-Fi coverage provided by its home broadband products. Adverts claimed that BT would ensure guaranteed coverage in every room through the use of disc repeaters, with the provider offering £20 off a customer’s next bill if this could not be achieved.

Virgin Media and Vodafone, along with 11 members of the public, challenged these claims while another 3 citizens said the advert did not make it clear the discs needed to be plugged in at the mains.

BT cited research showing that in 96 per cent of cases, customers could get full coverage with one extra disc and another four per cent of cases, full coverage could be achieved with two discs. Of 1,000 properties tested, only one required a payment. The company added that it was generally understood that electrical items needed to be plugged in.

However the ASA upheld this complaint too. It acknowledged BT’s research and the fact it had tested a wide variety of property types. However it said there was no reliable data to substantiate the claims, especially when it came to speeds.

“We told [BT] not to claim that they guaranteed Wi-Fi in every room unless they held adequate evidence to support the claims. We also told them not to use visuals that suggested the Wi-Fi discs did not need to be plugged into a socket.”

“We guarantee that our Complete Wi-Fi customers will get Wi-Fi in every room,” a BT spokesperson told TechRadar Pro. “Unlike other providers we send our customers a new Smart Hub 2 and Wi-Fi Disc which gets a strong wi-fi signal to every room for the majority of customers across the UK.

“We also go the extra mile for customers living in the biggest homes and we will happily send more Wi-Fi Discs and arrange for an engineer to visit if needed – we will always help our customers to get wi-fi to every room. The ASA wants us to explain more clearly that we’ll also send customers £20 if they’re still not happy and we’ve changed our ads to make that more clear.”

Steve McCaskill is TechRadar Pro's resident mobile industry expert, covering all aspects of the UK and global news, from operators to service providers and everything in between. He is a former editor of Silicon UK and journalist with over a decade's experience in the technology industry, writing about technology, in particular, telecoms, mobile and sports tech, sports, video games and media.