Three TV ad banned over misleading 'free' call claims

A TV ad for mobile operator Three has been banned by the Advertising Standards Authority for misleading consumers that calls to 0800 numbers were free to all customers.

The TV ad, created by agency Wieden + Kennedy, drew the ire of 11 complainants, who challenged whether the claim "At Three we’ve made 0800 numbers free" – which they understood applied to new customers or contracts – was misleading as it was not adequately qualified.

Another complainant, and a Three customer who had been told that they would be charged an additional £5 per month to call 0800 numbers, argued that the "free" claim was misleading.

The 40-second ad features a voiceover, which states: "At Three, we've made 0800 numbers free. Here's a new one for you to call." The viewer was then shown an image of a business card carrying the name "Singing Dictionary" and an 0800 number. On-screen text states: "All 0800 calls free on new Thee plans. Make the most of them".

Three parent Hutchison 3G defended itself on the basis that the ad was meant to be viewed as a whole, rather than in its constituent parts, adding that the information supporting the ad’s opening statement "we’ve made 0800 numbers free", including the text stating "All 0800 calls free on new Three Plans", made the proposition clear.

On the second count, Three’s defence was that it was standard for mobile operators to charge for 0800 calls but that its new plans allowed customers to make them at no extra cost. It felt that the statements in the ad stipulating "All 0800 numbers are free on 24-month plans" clearly referred to customers on new plans.

The ASA acknowledged that the ad said that free 0800 calls were only available on new, 24-month contracts, but considered that the ad "contained three differing messages".

"Because the ad contained ambiguous and contradictory messages which did not make clear the extent of the commitment consumers must make to take advantage of the free offer, we concluded the ad breached the Code," the ASA ruled. The complaints were upheld.

Regarding the second complaint, the ASA understood that the impression given by the ad was that consumers would receive no additional charges. "Because the price of the service had been increased we considered the ad breached the Code," it ruled. The complaint was upheld.

The ASA told Three that the ad must not appear again in its current form and had to ensure the basis of any "free" claim was clear to consumers in the future.

Earlier this year, Three was censured by the ASA over ads that claimed its "3.9G" speeds were close to 4G speeds

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