- Advertising watchdogs are taking action to stem the spiralling numbers of complaints to them about misleading advertising which has followed the massive expansion of Britain's telecommunications industry since its deregulation.
With more than 150 companies now offering telecommunications services in the UK, the Advertising Standards Authority and the rule-making Committee of Advertising Practice is setting down new guidelines to halt the stream of complaints by one company against another's comparative advertising.
The ASA says that, because no two companies have similar pricing structures, comparative advertising in the sector has become a "minefield for advertisers while making it at best confusing and at worst misleading for consumers".
The overall aim of the new guidelines is to ensure all comparisons made by companies are fair and clear and that they compare their services only with the most similar ones offered by their competitors.
To conform with the guidelines, advertisers must assume that different advertisers with different call patterns will behave rationally in choosing the best value service available, even if this is not borne out by the evidence.
At the same time, all prices quoted must include the amount of VAT payable unless the ads are being addressed exclusively to the trade.
Also, price claims, including those stating "up to" and "from" should not exaggerate the availability or the extent of benefits likely to be obtained by customers.
Telecoms companies are also warned against tucking away important information in small print. The guidelines insist that any footnotes should be clearly visible to a normal person reading an ad once at normal speed.