The Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) is considering imposing sanctions against Vodacom following its decision to uphold a complaint brought by Clear Copy on behalf of Cell C against an ad campaign run by Cell C’s bigger mobile rival.
In a ruling in favour of Clear Copy and Cell C, the ASA says it will “consider whether the respondent’s behaviour indicates a pattern of deliberate and/or flagrant offence, which may warrant imposing sanctions on the respondent and, if so, which sanctions should be imposed”. One option is to force Vodacom to have its advertising preapproved by the ASA.
The latest development is the most recent in a long line of battles at the ASA between Vodacom, Cell C and MTN. Vodacom, through its ad agency, had previously asked the ASA to impose sanctions on Cell C after a succession of rulings in favour of Vodacom. An ASA spokesman could not immediately be reached for comment on the outcome of that process.
The ASA says both Vodacom and Cell C, through their respective ad agencies, will be given the opportunity to comment on the issue of sanctions. Each will be given 10 days to comment.
The decision to consider sanctions against Vodacom follows the ASA’s upholding of a complaint in favour of Clear Copy and Cell C. Clear Copy had objected to a Vodacom print advertisement, which ran between 7 May and 6 June, that showed a picture of a Vodafone K4605 modem that it said was a “high-speed 42,2Mbit/s USB modem”.
The Cell C and Clear copy complaint was based on a previous ruling by the ASA’s Advertising Standards Committee, handed down on 31 May, in which it found that Cell C’s description of its “speedstick” modem using the terminology “21,6Mbit/s” was misleading because it essentially promoted the product on the basis of claims about speed. That complaint had been brought by a “Ms L van Zyl”.
Cell C objected to Vodacom’s use of “42,2Mbit/s”, arguing the claim was “even more misleading because it was highlighted in a green circle device with the words ‘high speed’”.
“The implication of this, unlike in the Cell C advertisement where the claim linked simply to a description of the speedstick, is that the claim is one of achievable speed,” the ASA says in its ruling, dated 2 August. “The speed of 42,2Mbit/s is not a speed that the consumer can achieve in ordinary use of the product in SA.”
Draftfcb, Vodacom’s advertising agency, submitted in response that it was important to communicate a modem’s hardware capability to consumers to make an informed decision as to which modem to purchase and that it was common practice for both mobile and fixed-line broadband providers to state the speed capabilities of modems as part of the specification. It said the modem capability claim was not conflated into a network speed claim.
However, the ASA found that “the likelihood” was that consumers would “understand the reference to 42,2Mbit/s to be a reference to the achievable speed on Vodacom’s network using the Vodafone K4605 modem”. As a result, and the context of the advertising, consumers were likely to be misled about the “actual achievable speed on Vodacom’s network” using the modem.
Vodacom spokesman Richard Boorman could not immediately be reached for comment. Cell C’s executive head of marketing, Simon Camerer, could also not be reached on his mobile phone. — Duncan McLeod, TechCentral
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