We are a not-for-profit organisation funded purely by donations and Google advertising revenue.
We do not get to choose which ads Google shows on our pages.


TalkTalk - Dishonest Advertising,
and the Advertising Standards Authority

- Why does the Advertising Standards Agency Stink so Bad?


Well, I've long been really fed up with the standard of advertising in the UK. Basically, they lie to us. Almost always. The regulating authority is the Advertising Standards Authority (ASA), and they operate to the advertising code of practice.

I have made a number of complaints about specific television ads in the past, including:

  • Boots - Because your eyes deserve the very best in clarity, Boots frames are now 20% off - tosh. False claim. It's about making money, and we all know it. YOU ARE LYING TO US. >>More
  • Cahoot online bank - huge print claims great rates - small, low-contrast print is there not to hide inconvenient truths - no - it's that way - and I quote - to help the visually impaired. Lies. Institutional LIES supported by a "regulator" whose function is to maintain a stinking status quo. >>More
  • Duracell have long claimed that their batteries last "Up to Four times longer than ordinary cell" - but they didn't say that - by ordinary - they mean the old zinc carbon cells which few of us buy anymore, because they're hardly ever on sale.>>More
  • Ocean Finance, the Loans for The Financially Challenged company, insisted that their "rates are competitive", but in fact, they were atrocious, though probably as good as you could get given that you had a dreadful credit history. >>More
  • Others here.

I won a few, I lost most, and in some cases, though I lost, the original claims quietly disappeared. For example, duracell - who now talk about "zinc carbon" rather than "ordinary cells", and Ocean Finance, who stopped saying rates were competitive, and started quoting the rates with no comparative claims. I'm told that the ASA notify advertisers if a complaint is made against them - even if it is not upheld, so it may be worth complaining a great deal - even when you're not upheld.

But recently, I complained about an ad from TalkTalk. They claimed FIVE TIMES in their short ad, that you could get a calls and broadband package for £6.49 per month.

That ad is here:

This article is long because I felt I ought to include all the dialogue verbatim, but here's the summary which you can click through to see details of the steps described.

My objection to the ad

How the ASA's code supports my objection

I started a petition with number 10, to crush our self-serving system or ads regulation

My complaint moving through the official regulator - the ASA

My complaint moving through my MP, Patrick Hall

A survey to collect your views

Your comments on all of this

Now - that's another simple, literal LIE - because - as is the way with these things - whilst the large, colour moving images and spoken word told you that lie, a small, fleeting, low-contrast text legend undid the lie, by noting a hefty £11.25 "line rental charge" which would also be levied each month. So - as usual - and as accepted in UK law - the large print giveth, and the small print taketh away, and the Advertising Code of Practice thinks that's just fine and wholesome and it rejected my complaint.

Being a bloody-minded little Hitler kind of a bloke, with no real life to speak of, I decided that this one was the one I'd make a stand on, and the rest of this article documents that struggle. If I can get this fixed, then the face of advertising in the UK will change forever for the better, and along with it, a lot of cynicism and dishonesty will be ruled unacceptable in law.

I obtained a copy of the online Broadcasting Committee of Advertising Practice - The Code.

There are at least six elements of the standard which I believe the ad breeches, and several elements of law, which I'll pursue in other ways, but for now, the most pertinent part of the guide seems to be this:

5.4.2(b) says:

Whilst text may expand or clarify a claim, or add minor qualification, it must not contradict the claim.

TalkTalk CLAIM the package is £6.49 a month. The text contradicts that claim, by adding a further line rental charge. For me, that's all the guidance we need, but the ASA's Daira Moynihan resolutely disagrees, and has closed my dialogue with him.

There are many other areas in which this ad seems to me to infringe the guidelines, and they are detailed in the dialogue which accompanies this article.

But finally, let's step back and look at the common sense and decency end of things.

Let's say, yep - it's fine, then here's exactly WHAT we're saying is fine.

It's fine to lie in ads as long as you undo the lie with a small, low contrast, fleeting piece of text. It doesn't matter that, for the vast majority of us, the sparkling, sumptuous, HD, moving colour images, emotional music written by world class composers - all conceived of by extremely well-paid creatives and directed and acted at huge expense by world-class people - lies. That can tell you whatever it likes - absolute filthy, stinking LIES - as long as the fleeting text undoes the lie. So it's entirely OK to do this:

THIS IS ONLY £6.49 PER MONTH *

La La La, Look at me, this is great, isn't it?

£4.49 - What a FANTASTIC PRICE!!!!!

£6.49?
We must be MAD!
Sign Up Now. Don't look down.









* no it isn't - it's really £17.74 a month. Shhhhh...

Actually, you can see exactly this - often - in print advertising, and sometimes the second asterisk is simply nowhere to be seen. Did someone forget it? Oh, lackaday, surely not.

Anyway, it seems to me that this is simply legalised lying. In fact, it's not a legal issue at all (it should be). The standard is voluntary, and policed by the industry itself (the ASA). Even then, their code, in my view, prohibits it, but is interpreted by the ASA to permit it. I can't think why.

I have submitted a petition to the government which reads:

We the undersigned petition the Prime Minister to Impose
effective regulation on the design and content of TV
advertising

The TV advertising industry is currently regulated by the
industry itself. Whilst the ASA code is adequate, its
compliance is only passively monitored through the process of
considering advertising complaints, and those considerations
are biased heavily in favour of the industry.

This means that institutionally-accepted manipulation of public
opinion through the all-pervasive medium of television is an
accepted part of British society today.

We want that stopped. We want TV advertising to be vetted
before transmission by an independent body.

If you support the idea, please sign the petition here.

Read what people said about the TalkTalk TV ads here.

My email dialogue with the ASA is at below, read from the bottom-up if you have the stamina. Sorry, I don't have the time to format it.


From: Chris
To: dairam@ASA.Org.UK
Subject: RE: Complaint to ASA about TalkTalk Telecom TV ad A09-103043
Date: Mon, 2 Nov 2009 10:51:06 +0000


OK I've exercised your system to it's conclusion. And it clearly, and mightily, stinks.

I've written to my MP and will shortly publish an article all about your high standards, Mr. Moynihan.
Doubtless he'll ignore it totally - so it goes with our Great British institutions.

So we'll see what the great unwashed feels about your approach to protecting public standards.
And I'll try to energise some publicity via Watchdog and so on. I hope your rise to fame is meteoric.

You're a smart man. With no doubt whatsoever, you will completely understand that the moral high ground is not yours, and it's not the ASA's.
I guess you'd prefer to just keep taking the money.

It is my hope that, sooner or later, you will not be taking a salary doing what you do to "Uphold the standards of public advertising in the UK"
- because what you're patently doing is upholding the interests of those you work for - the ASA and the advertisers.

Have a great week.
Chris Wesley - not earning a penny for wasting my time trying to wipe out stinking lies from the telly

-----Original Message-----
From: Daira Moynihan [mailto:dairam@ASA.Org.UK]
Sent: 30 October 2009 17:08
To: 'Chris Wesley'
Subject: RE: Complaint to ASA about TalkTalk Telecom TV ad A09-103043


Dear Mr Wesley

I won’t address each of your questions because all of them from number 2 onwards seem to either be predicated on your own response of “No” to question 1 or your interpretation of various Code rules. The ASA Council, which is the final arbiter of the Code and whether or not an ad is in breach of any Code rule, decided that the answer to that question was “Yes” (on the basis that all broadband providers charge line rental of some kind and communicate it separately to their monthly subscription charges and that the cost of line rental was made sufficiently clear in this ad). Therefore there is nothing more that I can say.

Regards

Daira Moynihan

From: Chris Wesley [mailto:Chris]
Sent: 22 October 2009 12:45
To: Daira Moynihan
Subject: RE: Complaint to ASA about TalkTalk Telecom TV ad A09-103043

Hello Daira,

Of course, this is disappointing for me, but more generally, because I must be missing something really important.

If you could enlighten me as to my reasoning error, I will probably go away forever, whereas if you cannot, I'm going to make this a crusade.

So therefore, please give me 10 more minutes of your time to explain where I am going wrong, and the best way, it seems to me, is to answer the questions I sent you in an earlier email, which I've copied again below.

====================

1. Is there ANY SENSE in which TalkTalk's plan costs £6.49 per month?

My answer is NO, so then:

2. Doesn't that mean that they're LYING then?

My answer is YES, so then:

3. Do you agree that the power of the lie - in moving colour images, sound, music and so on - is far more powerful than the truth - in tiny fleeting test?

My answer is YES, so then:

4. Isn't it obvious that most people will not register the tiny truth, but will register the HUGE LIE?

My answer is YES, so then:

5. How can you justify the code which permits it?

Please be sure to answer each of those specifically, and know that I'll publish your responses on the web.

==================

I have now read the code in some detail, and - as I alluded to earlier,it seems to be quite well-written and based in common sense.
That's good news, but it makes your decision and that of your appeals process even more perplexing.

So, as well as answering the above questions, please also answer these:

6. Guide section 5.1.2 note 2 says:

Advertising is likely to be considered misleading if, for example, it contains a false statement... about a material fact...

a. Your answer to my questions 1 above may address this for us.

Isn't it clearly true that the statement "This package costs just £6.49 a month" is literally totally untrue. It WON'T EVER COST YOU THAT MUCH.

b. This note goes on to say:

Any ambiguity which might give a misleading impression must be avoided.

By stating that the package is £6.49 but adding a small text qualifier saying it isn't - this is ambiguous. Isn't it?

c. 5.1.2 note 3 says:

Even if everything stated is literally true, an advertisement may still mislead if it ... creates a false impression.

When you headline a great price in moving images and sound, but you un-say those claims in tiny fleeting text, YOU ARE LIKELY TO CREATE A FALSE IMPRESSION - aren't you?

d. 5.1.2 note 6 goes on:

[ASA and BCAP] must consider the overall impression likely to be conveyed to the average consumer.
This ad, and many others, seems DESIGNED to give entirely the wrong impression and hope that the consumers don't notice the small print.

e. The entirety of 5.1.3 clearly supports my viewpoint and not yours. Doesn't it?

f. 5.4.1 says:

Advertisers must not use any technique that is likely to give a misleading ... impression.

Is seems clear to me, again, that using small print to undo the lies which the far larger more impactful ad has, is exactly such a misleading technique.

Isn't it?

g. 5.4.2(a) says:

Text in advertisements must be legible ....

I do not wear glasses, but I can barely read much of it.

h. 5.4.2(b) says:

Whilst test may expand or clarify a claim ... it must not contradict the claim.

TalkTalk CLAIM the package is £6.49 a month. The text contradicts that claim, but adding a further line rental charge.

If you don't agree this is a clear breech, then one of us is either mad or a bare-faced liar, and I WILL find out which it is.

I'm going to stop here for now.

I hope that you can respond in some other way than simply claiming that black is white and that these cases are not what they seem to me to clearly be.

But if you do do that, or if you decide not to respond, then I'll conduct an online survey of many members of the public and see who they agree with,

and I'll involve my MP and others.

Please don't give up on me, Daira. I really want to let this go. If you can explain why my conclusions are simply wrong, I'll drop it and be glad to.

But right now, I just can't see it.

Regards,

Chris

-----Original Message-----
From: Daira Moynihan [mailto:dairam@ASA.Org.UK]
Sent: 22 October 2009 12:16
To: 'Chris Wesley'
Subject: RE: Complaint to ASA about TalkTalk Telecom TV ad A09-103043

Dear Mr Wesley

The ASA Council has now considered your complaint under the TV Advertising Standards Code. It considered that the ad made clear in the onscreen text, which it felt was of adequate size and held for a reasonable length of time, that line rental was payable and how much it cost. It concluded that the ad was unlikely to mislead viewers about the monthly cost of the services offered. We have informed the advertiser that their ad provoked a complaint that was considered by Council, without revealing any details of the complainant. We have now closed our file on the matter.

Yours sincerely

Daira Moynihan

From: Chris Wesley [mailto:Chris]
Sent: 14 October 2009 13:59
To: Daira Moynihan
Subject: RE: Complaint to ASA about TalkTalk Telecom TV ad A09-103043 =>LFB.BB.ASA

Thanks.

-----Original Message-----
From: Daira Moynihan [mailto:dairam@ASA.Org.UK]
Sent: 14 October 2009 12:22
To: 'Chris Wesley'
Subject: RE: Complaint to ASA about TalkTalk Telecom TV ad A09-103043 =>LFB.BB.ASA

Dear Mr Wesley

The ASA Council will be asked to consider your complaint and our assessment of it this week. We should be able to get back to you by the end of next week.

Daira

From: Chris Wesley [mailto:Chris]
Sent: 14 October 2009 12:20
To: Daira Moynihan
Subject: FW: Complaint to ASA about TalkTalk Telecom TV ad A09-103043 =>LFB.BB.ASA

Daira,

On October 1st, you asked me to wait for you to get back tome with further information.

I'm sure you are busy and many of the issues you deal with are complex and require the cooperation of others, so two weeks is not an inordinate amount of time to wait.

But please give me some indication of what it is I'm waiting for, and how much longer you estimate will be required.

Thanks,

Chris

-----Original Message-----
From: Chris Wesley [mailto:Chris]
Sent: 06 October 2009 10:30
To: 'Daira Moynihan'
Subject: RE: Complaint to ASA about TalkTalk Telecom TV ad A09-103043

Thanks Daira,

What strikes me when reading them is that they are actually reasonably sensible, and that they support my views and not yours!

I won't get into that here, instead I'll wait for your response. Please give me an ETA.

Thanks.

Chris

-----Original Message-----
From: Daira Moynihan [mailto:dairam@ASA.Org.UK]
Sent: 06 October 2009 10:21
To: 'Chris Wesley'
Subject: RE: Complaint to ASA about TalkTalk Telecom TV ad A09-103043

Mr Wesley

Yes, those are the rules that we judge most complaint about TV ads against (there are also a separate set of rules that deal specifically with the scheduling of some kinds of TV ads).

Regards

Daira

From: Chris Wesley [mailto:Chris]
Sent: 02 October 2009 16:36
To: Daira Moynihan
Subject: RE: Complaint to ASA about TalkTalk Telecom TV ad A09-103043

Daira,

Thank you for the holding response. I will wait a while longer.

In the meantime, please confirm that the standards you measure compliance to are those embodied in the code here: http://www.cap.org.uk/The-Codes/~/media/Files/CAP/Codes/BCAPTVAdCode.ashx

which is linked to on the page here: http://www.cap.org.uk/The-Codes/BCAP-Code.aspx.

If not, please point me directly at the standard you do use.

Thanks & Regards,

Chris

-----Original Message-----
From: Daira Moynihan [mailto:dairam@ASA.Org.UK]
Sent: 01 October 2009 17:16
To: 'Chris Wesley'
Subject: RE: Complaint to ASA about TalkTalk Telecom TV ad A09-103043

Dear Mr Wesley

We will get back to you shortly with further information.

Regards

Daira Moynihan

From: Chris Wesley [mailto:Chris]
Sent: 22 September 2009 10:42
To: Daira Moynihan
Subject: RE: Complaint to ASA about TalkTalk Telecom TV ad A09-103043

Dear Mr. Moynihan

Thank you for your recent email. I now understand the following:

1. You confirm that the ASA regulates TV advertising, so my complaint regarding the TalkTalk ad was addressed to the correct body.

2. You have rejected my complaint because it meets the guidelines, in that it undoes the lies it tells in large moving narrated video - with small, fleeting, low-contrast, silent, static text.

3. You say that, if I wish to take issue with the standard which permits this kind of dishonesty, ("The Code") then I have my MP or OfCom to turn to.

4. You also note that I may also give general feedback to the ASA.

5. I may also request an independent review of your adjudication in favour or TalkTalk.

6. You note that recent consultation on a new code is now closed.

Your explanation of why this code is sensible points to a status quo spanning decades, and involving the establishment's tacit approval.
By that measure, slavery was an exceptionally wonderful idea.

Well, where now? Am I being argumentative? I don't think so, but perhaps I am wrong, and so - before I take this further, I would appreciate your expert insights.

Fundamentally, it seems to me, to be genuinely and obviously WRONG that the big, moving images, sound and music - orchestrated by psychologists and world-class film directors, designed to manipulate our buying decisions, can be sprayed into our homes - and it's OK for them to LIE TO US, as long as tiny, fleeting disclaimers are also included.

Please show me the error in my thinking. Why is that OK? Why isn't that fundamentally dishonest? Why is the code which permits it just hunky dory?

Specifically, for you, please:

1. Is there ANY SENSE in which TalkTalk's plan costs £6.49 per month?

My answer is NO, so then:

2. Doesn't that mean that they're LYING then?

My answer is YES, so then:

3. Do you agree that the power of the lie - in moving colour images, sound, music and so on - is far more powerful than the truth - in tiny fleeting test?

My answer is YES, so then:

4. Isn't it obvious that most people will not register the tiny truth, but will register the HUGE LIE?

My answer is YES, so then:

5. How can you justify the code which permits it?

Please be sure to answer each of those specifically, and know that I'll publish your responses on the web.

Assuming you don't manage to straighten out my thinking, or you decide not to bother trying, then:

1. please consider this an appeal against your decision on the TalkTalk ad, because this situation stinks so horribly that I'm not going to give up on it until it is fixed.

2. I will tackle this with my MP and with OfCom.

Thanks,

Chris Wesley

-----Original Message-----
From: Daira Moynihan [mailto:dairam@ASA.Org.UK]
Sent: 11 September 2009 17:07
To: 'Chris'
Subject: RE: Complaint to ASA about TalkTalk Telecom TV ad A09-103043

Dear Mr Wesley

Neil has passed your email to me as you seem dissatisfied with the answers he has provided to the queries you made with your complaint. I should say straight away that, judging from the correspondence up to this point, there appears to be no evidence of intransigence on his part or the “complacent incompetence” that you refer to. While he didn’t explicitly address your queries in his initial response, they were put in such a way that one might reasonably have regarded them as either rhetorical questions or comments to be noted on how the ASA makes itself accessible to the public and communicates with them. You subsequently made clear that you required answers to them, which he provided. When you demanded further clarification, he gave it but, from your comments in yesterday’s email, it is clear that you are still not satisfied. I feel that these comments should be addressed directly.

Your first three comments yesterday expressed confusion at why Neil had provided more details about how advertising is regulated in this country. This information was provided in response to your questions “who thinks that serves our society well? And why?” and your statement (in your email of 9 September) that “the guidelines are…biased in favour of the advertiser”. These were predicated on a mistaken impression of how advertising standards are maintained, making a direct response to your questions difficult. As he had already explained, we assess complaints on a case by case rather than applying the crude rationale that you had suggested but nevertheless he went on to outline the respective backgrounds to the regulation of non-broadcast and broadcast advertising, both of which are the day-to-day responsibility of the ASA and CAP/BCAP. He also explained that the ASA regulates TV and Radio advertising on behalf of Ofcom, the statutory communication regulator, and that it has successfully regulated non-broadcast advertising for over four decades with the approval of the relevant government departments, statutory regulators and the Courts. This showed “who” thinks it’s a good idea for the ASA to administer the Advertising Standards Codes, which lay down what is and is not acceptable in ads to both protect consumers and maintain a level playing field for marketers and, in terms of its long standing effectiveness in maintaining standards , “why”.

I note your final question, which you had not asked directly in your previous correspondence, “to whom may I address my concerns about he advertising standard?(sic)” If you are fundamentally dissatisfied with how non-broadcast advertising is self-regulated and/or how broadcast advertising is co-regulated and the role the ASA plays then I can only suggest that you raise your concerns with your MP, who may feel that the matter is one that demands to be acted on as a public policy priority, or with Ofcom directly. Alternatively, we are always happy to receive general feedback from members of the public. This should be sent to the most appropriate email address on the ‘Contact Us’ page of our website rather than through the complaints form, which is for complaints about specific ads.

If your concerns are about the wording of the Codes then you should know that CAP and BCAP have recently closed public consultations on new Codes, which were written in light of contributions from industry bodies, statutory regulators, consumer groups and other bodies concerned with consumer protection. While it is too late to respond to these consultations, many thousands of responses were received and are being thoroughly considered. You have already stated that you don’t wish to challenge the assessment of your complaint but you should know that, if complainants are dissatisfied with a decision made on their complaint by the ASA Council they can request an independent review. If they are dissatisfied with a decision made under delegated authority by the ASA Executive then we are always willing to refer the matter to Council for its view.

I hope that this fully addresses the your comments.

Yours sincerely

Daira Moynihan

Daira Moynihan (Mr) | Complaints Manager

Direct line 020 7492 2152 | E-mail dairam@asa.org.uk

Advertising Standards Authority

Mid City Place 71 High Holborn London WC1V 6QT

Telephone 020 7492 2222 www.asa.org.uk

Keeping advertising standards high

From: Chris Wesley [mailto:Chris]
Sent: 10 September 2009 13:13
To: Neil Burrows
Subject: RE: Complaint to ASA about TalkTalk Telecom TV ad A09-103043

Neil,

my comments are inline with yours. below.

-----Original Message-----
From: Neil Burrows [mailto:neilb@ASA.Org.UK]
Sent: 10 September 2009 11:30
To: 'Chris Wesley'
Subject: Complaint to ASA about TalkTalk Telecom TV ad A09-103043

Dear Mr Wesley

Thank you for your email.

Non-broadcast advertising in the UK is subject to the rules contained in the British Code of Advertising, Sales Promotion and Direct Marketing (you can read the advertising Codes on our website, www.asa.org.uk).

You seem to be saying that basically I'm writing to the wrong people, as the ASA is responsible for non-broadcast ads, and my complaint concerns a broadcast (TV) ad. Yet, the ASA website includes adjudications concerning TV ads, so I don't understand why this paragraph is present.

The ASA began to administer the system of self-regulation in 1962 and is accepted as the established means of regulating non-broadcast advertising by the Courts and Government.

Why did you say any of that? I haven't asked for a history lesson. How does that take my enquiry forward? Is it there to pad out the response - or to hide the fact that - yet again - you have failed to address my concern? If not, then what?

Your complaint concerned a TV ad. TV ads must comply with the TV Advertising Standards Code. The TV Code is the responsibility of the Broadcast Committee of Advertising Practice (BCAP) under contract from the broadcast and telecommunications statutory regulator, Ofcom. You can find more information about the breakdown of responsibility between Ofcom and the ASA at www.ofcom.org.uk.

Are you saying that queries concerning the standard should be directed to Ofcom? If so, then I feel you could have said it far more clearly and succinctly. Are you saying that? If not, then what are you saying?

As I advised in my previous email, our website contains more information about the way the self-regulatory system works. We consider complaints on their own merits and on a case by case basis; in this case we considered that we did not have grounds for intervention for the reasons explained in my letter of yesterday’s date (sent by email only).

Yes, I got the letter and read it. I understand that you adjudicated against my complaint. That conversation is over, and I don't know why you have raised it again. I want to speak to someone about the standard - not about your adjudications against it. If the standard stinks, then the adjudications will stink. They both stink. I want to get that fixed. How do I go about that?

When you originally completed our online complaint form, you did not enter an email address for correspondence. As you will see from the form and our subsequent correspondence, we are happy to reply by email where appropriate and certainly if the complainant prefers. I am sorry that you were not satisfied with the design and performance of our online form. I will pass your comments on to our Complaints Reception team so they are aware of your concern.

Thank you.

Oh, and I don't accept your disclaimer. I reserve the right to publish everything said here, and in fact, fully intend to do so.

Your intransigence thus far is very disappointing, but not at all surprising. It's what I have come to expect of people working in organisations like yours which - though set up and funded to protect our society - actually slide into an entitlement mentality of protecting jobs and hiding complacent incompetence.

Now, please answer this questions clearly: to whom may I address my concerns about he advertising standard?

Thanks,

Chris Wesley

Yours sincerely

Neil Burrows | Complaints Executive | ASA

Tel: 020 7492 2102 | Email: neilb@asa.org.uk


Advertising Standards Authority

Mid City Place 71 High Holborn London WC1V 6QT

Telephone 020 7492 2222 www.asa.org.uk

Keeping advertising standards high


________________________________________________________________________
The Advertising Standards Authority Ltd, Registered Number 0733214
The Advertising Standards Authority (Broadcast) Ltd, Registered Number 5130991
The Committee of Advertising Practice, an unincorporated association
The Broadcast Committee of Advertising Practice Ltd, Registered Number 5126412

Registered Office: Mid City Place, 71 High Holborn, London, WC1V 6QT
________________________________________________________________________
The information contained in this electronic correspondence and any files transmitted with it is intended for the addressee only and may contain confidential and/or privileged information. If you are not the addressee please delete this message and notify the sender; you should not copy or distribute this message or disclose its contents to anyone.
________________________________________________________________________

Patrick Hall MP

Patrick is my local MP, I wrote to him:

Dear Mr. Hall,

I am a constituent of yours.

I have been concerned about the increasing extent to which our TV advertising is dishonest.

I feel this matters because:

a. TV advertising is regulated for a reason, so it should be regulated well
b. The impact of TV on our lives is massive
c. Condoning poor standards of honesty and decency, as we do when we have a poor regulator, acts to degrade our faith in and commitment to society

A recent advert from TalkTalk prompted me to act on this, because it lies blatantly in its 60 seconds.

You can see the ad here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Y-oh1PtLtVA

They state four times in their 60 second ad that they offer "Calls and Broadband for just £6.49 a month",
- yet the small print confirms that a further £11.25 is required for line rental, plus a connection fee.
The headline price is never available; this is a cynical attempt to deceive - the large print giveth and the small print taketh away,

I have been working this with the Advertising Standards Agency.
They point out that the small static text corrects the dominant impression given by the large colour text and stereo voice-over,
and that therefore there is no breach of the guidelines. They will not discuss this further with me.

However, the guidelines dispute this, most clearly here:
h. 5.4.2(b): Whilst test may expand or clarify a claim ... it must not contradict the claim.

The entire guideline may be found here: http://www.cap.org.uk/The-Codes/~/media/Files/CAP/Codes/BCAPTVAdCode.ashx.

I am not able to take this further. I am told the ASA is the final arbiter, so I am bringing this to your attention in the hope that you think it sufficiently valuable to take it forward.

If necessary, I can supply the complete correspondence I have conducted with the ASA, though I do not believe it adds any substantive material.

I hope to hear from you in due course.

Regards,

Chris Wesley

20 days after my original email, Patrick Hall MP wrote back:

Dear Mr Wesley

Thank you for your emails sent 30 October and 9 November 2009 regarding Talk Talk broadband TV advertising offering "Calls and Broadband for just £6.49 a month".

I have read your emails and your correspondence with the Advertising Standards Agency carefully. I have also watched the advertisement in question and agree with you that it id confusing and does not obviously state how much the broadband service costs.

I have therefore written to Chris Smith, Chairman od the Advertising Standards Agency and Charles Dunstone, Chief Executive of Talk Talk to ask for their comments. I enclose a copy of these letters for your information and I will send you their responses when they are received by my office.

Yours sincerely

PATRICK HALL

Patrick Hall enclosed the letters he sent, which simply presented my arguments.

Nest I heard Patrick Hall wrote to me with the responses he had received. This one is from the Right Honourable Lord Smith of Finsbury:

Dear Patrick,

Your Constituent Chris Wesley: Talk Talk advertisement

Thank you for your letter of 20th November, about a complaint from your constituent [name & address], who was concerned about the possibly misleading nature of a Talk Talk television advertisement. The voice in the ad offered "Calls and Broadband for just £6.49 a month", but the text on-screen stated "£11.25 monthly line rental required".

As you make reference to in your letter the task of the ASA Council is to consider claims made in ads against the requirements of the Broadcast Advertising Code. The Council did in fact give very careful consideration to this ad, mid October. The balance of prominence between the voiceover and the text on screen was scrutinised, and the issue of whether the text contradicted or expanded on the claim made in the body of the ad was considered with care. The Council decided that the on-screen text was of adequate size and held for a reasonable length of time, so that the fact that line rental was payable, and its monthly cost, was clear to the consumer. As a result, the Council concluded that the ad was unlikely to mislead viewers about the monthly cost of the services offered.

I appreciate that Mr. Wesley will be disappointed by the conclusion the Council reached, but the Council does have a duty to weigh up the case against the provisions of the Code, and did so with care in this instance.

I hope this explanation is helpful, and I am enclosing an additional copy of this letter in case you wish to pass it on to your constituent.

Yours sincerely,

Chris

Right Honourable Lord Smith of Finsbury
Chairman

Well, clearly, the Right Honourable Lord Smith of Finsbury isn't the sharpest honourable Lord in the Box of Lords, because he's entirely missed the point I was making.

More on this later.

I heard again from Patrick when he passed on his reply from TalkTalk boss, Gareth Gilmour, which goes like this:

Dear Mr Hall

We're sorry that your constituent has had cause to write to you about our advertisement and we have noted the concerns raised.

All of our TW advertisements are reviewed and approved by Clearcast (a company acting on behalf of broadcasters and licensed by OFCOM) prior to broadcast. Such approval includes consideration of the relevant advertisement's compliance with the TV Advertising Standards Code.

In the event that a complaint is upheld against Clearcast with regard to their approval of the relevant advertisement then we shall review our advertising practices. However, given the approval of the relevant advertisement by Clearcast, we consider it to be compliant with the TV Advertising Standards Code.

I would also like to thank you for bringing this to my attention. I trust that the above has answered all the points you raised but should either you or Mr Wesley have any further concerns, pease do not hesitate to contact Geoff Thirlwell, a member of my office .

Gareth has won awards for excellence in business, Imagine that. This prosaic piece of corporate claptrap can be summarised as follows:

Our ad was passed, so I see no reason to comment

So - the wheels had turned, and the replies were in.

Imagine my surprise to find the establishment protecting the status quo, but so far, I felt Patrick Hall had done OK.

I wrote to him again:

Dear Mr. Hall,

Thank you for your letter of November 30th, in which you pass on Lord Smith's response to our concerns about the Talk Talk TV ad.

I hope it is clear to both of us, that Lord Smith has not addressed the issue at all.

The issue is that this ad violates the guideline which says that text cannot contradict a claim.

Lord Smith's response considers the balance of emphasis between the text and the other content, but this was not our complaint, and neither is it the subject of the clause in the guideline which we are considering.

The claim, made clearly, four times, is that the package costs £6.49 per month.
The text contradicts this by adding an £11.25 monthly line rental; it is saying "the cost is NOT £6.49 - there is a further £11.25 to pay". It is contradicting the claim, and it is in violation of the guideline.

I order to refute this reasoning, Lord Smith would have to assert that the voiceover is not a claim, or that the claim is genuine. Both seem self-evidently ridiculous to me.

Mr. Hall, you have said you agree with me, and it seems to me that nothing Lord Smith has said addresses our concerns.

I am hoping that you feel able to push this further. This is about widespread dishonesty in our national TV advertising. This is a specimen case, which, if upheld (as it surely must be) will change the face of UK advertising. That is why it's worth fighting through, and perhaps this is why Lord Smith is trying so hard to argue that black is white.

By the way, I have raised a petition with umber 10. I would be very grateful if you would consider signing it here:
http://petitions.number10.gov.uk/regulatetvads/

Please let me know what further you can do. If this proves to be a dead end, then I guess the next step is the media. Maybe Watchdog would take an interest. If you have other ideas for ways I can progress this, please do let me know, but most of all, I hope that you will agree with me that Lord Smith simply has not addressed our concern, and that you will encourage him to do so second time around.

Many thanks for your time. I'm sure you're very busy.

Best Wishes,
Chris Wesley

I have highlighted the part in red for this presentation only. I think it may have given Patrick Hall a panic attack. I waited 22 days and one reminder to get Patrick Hall's reply:

Dear Mr Wesley

Thank you for your e-mail sent on 1 December 2010. I am sorry for the delay in replying but wanted to take time to think very carefully about your observation that the Advertising Standards Authority's view regarding a (specimen only) claim in an advertisement is wrong.

On the specific case, the Talk Talk TV advert has the words "Calls and Broadband for just £6.49 a month" with is supporting text on screen which brings viewers attention to the fact that, in order to use the £6.49 a month service, a telephone line must also be rented. The ASA judges this is reasonable and you feel it is not. Talk Talk obviously follows the ASA's view.

I agree with the ASA. Firstly, I feel it is reasonable that people intending to purchase the package would realise that a telephone line would also be needed. Secondly, people can purchase many things that would not be useable without other products and most of them do not have the explanatory text.

I accept that this reply will be disappointing to you and am sorry that this is so. I have also looked at your petition on the Number 10 website as you asked.

Your sincerely

PATRICK HALL

It seems to me that Patrick's reasoning is flawed.

The TalkTalk package is "Phone and Broadband for £6.49 per month. It is NOT claiming "Broadband will cost you £6.49 but you'll need an existing phone line, costing £11.25".

It is saying YOU CAN HAVE PHONE AND BROADBAND, AND IT WILL COST YOU £6.49 PER MONTH. AND THAT IS A LIE.

I wrote one last time to Patrick Hall:

Mr Hall,

I now have your eventual response on TalkTalk's ad, and of course, I am astonished that you have reversed your earlier decision.

You are now saying the text it is self-evident that line rental would be required in order to use a phone service. It wasn't self evident to you when you initially agreed with me, so why the change?

I guess you've either been got at, or else you've realised (well, I told you) that if you supported this, the precedent would be set to tear down the whole festering pile of lies we call advertising in the UK. Either way, you've let me and all of your constituents down.

Look. There is only ONE REASON why anyone would split out the charges in this way. It's to give the impression that the service is far cheaper than it really is,
so that people will switch and before they learn the truth, they'll be with the new service and won't be bothered to switch away again. This is the kind of business practice you are supporting in your decision.

There is NO SENSE WHATSOEVER in which the service "Phone and broadband" costs what they say it does. They are lying. You know it and I know it, and they know it. The small print CONTRADICTS THE CLAIM, and that BREACHES THE GUIDELINE, which, by the way, does not refer to what may or may not be commonly understood by watchers.

I got this from a reader of my website yesterday:

Talk Talk seem to want to add a "chargeable Capacity" cost of 15/month, making the total they want from me - 33.48 per month.
You don't find this out until you do an availability/speed check!

- and the beat goes on, and you keep taking the money, and the public you represent keep getting shafted.

What you have said in your decision is this:

"I, Patrick Hall MP, honestly think that this practice - whereby the large print (and the sumptuous moving images, soothing music, and the reassuring actor's voice-over) giveth, and the small print taketh away, is legal, sound wholesome, and it serves the public interest.

See - while they give a clear impression that it'll cost you £6.45 a month, it won't - but then - anyone would know that anyway - it's fine. It's decent. It's Legal. It's honest. Oh, and that text at the bottom that says it'll really cost you more - that's not a contradiction, no - that's supporting information."
Patrick, it STINKS, and we both know it. I am bitterly sorry that you are all I have for an MP.


I'll publish all of this online. I'll take it to the television where I hope your role in this become very well-known indeed.

Chris Wesley

I've written back to Lord Smith as follows:

 

Dear Lord Smith,

Please find below an email from me to Patrick Hall MP.
I sent it following him passing on your response regarding the TalkTalk ads decision on to me.

It contains my objections and I don't think I can improve upon it for you, so I simply show it to you.

It is unfortunate and mystifying that Patrick Hall saw fit to give up when he did, since he was in agreement before your response, and your response does not address the argument at all.

I have not given up, so - please address my concerns as described below.

Please also explain how your decision on this issue can be justified in light of the ASA's decision regarding Ryan Air advertising it's £0 tickets.
In this case, you found the ad unacceptable because there were hidden costs. The analogy seems to me to be perfect, yet your decision was the opposite.

The details of that case are reported here: http://www.which.co.uk/news/2006/11/ryanair-tv-ad-rapped-for-0-fare-that-wasnt-99702.

Finally, please be aware of an article I have written on this exchange which you can find here: http://www.letsfixbritain.com/advertisingcodeofpractice.htm.
If there are any matters of fact which you dispute or you would like an opportunity to add your own comments, then please let me know.

Regards,
Chris Wesley

[The email "below" I was referring to it here]

Lord Smith Replied:

Dear Mr Wesley,

Thank you for your further email, about the Talk Talk ad and your complaint. I'm afraid that I can't agree that I have "not addressed the argument". As you have pointed out yourself on your website, the crucial issue here is whether the superimposed text clarified or contradicted the principle claim made by the ad. The ASA (Broadcast) Council considered this matter and concluded that this was an instance of clarificatiob, not contradiction. I'm sorry not to be able ro agree with you on this.

Dear Lord Smith,

I have your letter of March 12th.

My complaint about the Talk Talk as is that the text subtitle contradicts the main claim (that the service is £6.49) by adding supplementary charges (increasing the actual cost to up to £33). That situation is in clear, direct contravention of the guideline.

As you will know, I pushed my complaint through the ASA's process and it was not upheld. So I wrote to my MP Patrick Hall, who agreed with me. He then wrote to you and we both received your reply. Patrick was happy with it but I am not - because your reply did not address my complaint.

Your response, dated November 26th, may be summarised as follows:

  • The council considered & rejected the complaint
  • The balance of voiceover and text, and the allegation of contradiction was considered
  • The council decided that the text was big enough, and on for long enough to make the additional costs clear

But nothing here addresses my complaint, Lord Smith. The ASA guideline says that text MUST NOT CONTRADICT THE MAIN CLAIM. And it simply DOES.

The ASA rejected my complaint saying there was no contradiction "on the basis that all broadband providers charge line rental of some kind".
Firstly, this is a non-sequitar. The guideline makes no mention of a rule saying that some charges are implicitly understood and therefore there is no need to mention them.

Furthermore, if there were such a rule, then it is in direct conflict with the ASA's judgement regarding Ryan air, in which they agreed that Ryan air breeched the guideline by not mentioning taxes in their ads.


So I am asking you, Lord Smith, as the public representative at the head of our national body for regulating TV advertising, and in light of the points raised to tell me why you agree with the ASA's judgement. Please tell me - what is your rationale for not over-turning it? Please address specifically the only issue I have ever raised in this connection - THAT THE TEXT CONTRADICTS THE MAIN CLAIM.

Thank you.

Chris Wesley

Please consider taking 60 seconds to complete this little survey. You can see the complete dialogue between me and the ASA below, but if I'd like to know your views.

Is the TalkTalk ad misleading?

The TalkTalk ad says 4 times in huge text and several more time in speech that the package costs just £6.49 per month.

Does this breech the code which says:

Whilst text may expand or clarify a claim, or add minor qualification, it must not contradict the claim.

Would you like to see all cases where low-profile small print reverses a claim stopped?
How do you rate the ASA in policing UK TV advertising

What else would you like to say?

Type 3 + seven below:

(spam check)

 

Here is reader feedback:

1. Is the TalkTalk ad misleading?: Yes

2. Does this breech the code which says:: Yes

3. Would you like to see all cases where low-profile small print reverses a claim stopped?: Yes

4. How do you rate the ASA in policing UK TV advertising: 1 (out of 10)

Comments: The woman's voiceover says it all.
"With talk talk, we can cut your bill to just 6.49 a month"
That is clearly a lie.

Furthermore, I tried to get the 6.49 deal online a few months ago, and when I put my postcode in it said that price wasn't available in my area. So that was a lie too.

I've now moved house. I put my new postcode in, I get the folllowing pop-up quote (I AM eligible apparently for the offer here)

But the quote, for the "Essentials Package" is
Broadband and phone: 6.49
Chargeable capacity 15.00 (WHAT is that?)
Line rental: 11.25
Total: 32.74

So I am in full agreement with you - how is that "cutting my bill to 6.49?????????
The bill will NEVER be 6.49!!!!!

Talk Talk seem to want to add a "chargeable Capacity" cost of 15/month, making the total they want from me - 33.48 per month. You don't find this out until you do an availability/speed check!

 

Online Survey feedback:

IsItMisleading: Yes

DidItBreech: Don't Know

StopSmallPrint: Yes

ASAScore: 5

Comments: I almost fell into the same TalkTalk trap, but for me with an extra 15 "chargeable capacity" which is not explained, just added on. Apparently something to do with my exchange but no explanation at all on TalkTalk's website.

Online Survey feedback:

IsItMisleading: Yes

DidItBreech: Yes

StopSmallPrint: Yes

ASAScore: 2

Comments: I was attracted to the headline £6.49 a month deal only to discover the actual monthly cost was £33.48.

This practice is akin to low cost airlines (specifically Ryanair) who omitted fees and taxes in their advertising and eventually called to account by the ASA

http://www.which.co.uk/news/2006/11/ryanair-tv-ad-rapped-for-0-fare-that-wasnt-99702

IsItMisleading: Yes

DidItBreech: Yes

StopSmallPrint: Yes

ASAScore: 0

Comments: I came across this as I was trying to clarify for an elderly couple the advert. They were convinced that it was a great offer.

Once I explained that there was also a line rental charge plus the fact that they also had the "availability" charge to meet, they were less than pleased.

They thanked me and said they were about to sign up but thought they would check with me first as i am a "wizard" on the computer. Funnilly enough, I am with talktalk and have a very good service which costs me 21 per month for broadband, line rental and international calling 24/7. I am happy with my service but I must agree that the current advert is bad.

Peter

IsItMisleading: Yes

DidItBreech: Yes

StopSmallPrint: Yes

ASAScore: 0

Comments: I agree entirely. The Gov't in completely in bed with big business 'cos that where they get their internal funding so no way will they deal with this.

And of course for each sucker who gets creamed the gov't makes 20% of the profit in Corporation Tax and another 17.5% in VAT so tough luck Joe Public.

I just got tripped by TalkTalk's 'Chargeable capacity'. BB & phone for 18.49, except when it's not.

You're over a barrel, take another shafting and say thank you sir may I have another. This is Britain.

You can pay your line rental to other companies and still have the 6.49 a month broadband from Talktalk. It is not misleading, it is only misleading for people like you who do not understand basic workings of businesses

Response: It's quite frustrating when idiots (who are always anonymous) write in like this.

I have been an international IT manager, responsible for a £6m budget and 30 staff. I understand business. It seems you don't understand the written word.

My problem with the ad is that it tells you you can have all three services for £6.49 a month. The undeniable fact is that you can't have ANY OF THOSE SERVICES for £6.49 a month. You can have those services by paying £6.49 plus a bunch of other crap they'd quite like you to find out about when you're too far down the line to back out. That's why they mention it in passing, in low contrast text - fleetingly. They're dishonest crooks. However, you cut it, the customer's cost for those services is NOT £6.49 PER MONTH. YOU CRETIN. Yeah, I know - but I'm so sick of people who are too stupid to know how stupid they really are.


IsItMisleading: Yes

DidItBreech: Yes

StopSmallPrint: Yes

ASAScore: 0

Comments: Talk Talk want to charge me £33 for my £6.49 package

Comments: Thank you thank you thank you thank you thank you. I am not alone.
IsItMisleading: Yes

DidItBreech: Don't Know

StopSmallPrint: Yes

ASAScore: Don't Know

Comments:

IsItMisleading: Yes

DidItBreech: Yes

StopSmallPrint: Yes

ASAScore: 4

Comments:

Well done, we totally agree and support your efforts in cleaning up the advertising world. Talk Talk should be prosecuted for their hood-winking antics.. and the government should be forced to take action.
IsItMisleading: Yes

DidItBreech: Yes

StopSmallPrint: No

ASAScore: 3

Comments: I too was misguided by their advert and it took a long time to resolve. I was charged for connection fee because I was previously a Sky customer - first quote £99 and then after speaking to their manager £49 - this was not made clear in their advert. I cancelled my order immediately the next day and still getting payments taken out of my bank account. I also have a TalkTalk router waiting to be returned once I receive the Goods Return label TalkTalk promised to send.

 

 
Send Feedback | Discuss online

Donate | Newsletter

We are a not-for-profit organisation funded purely by donations and Google advertising revenue
We do not get to choose which ads Google shows on our pages.

 

Founder's BLOG | An ex-magistrate's BLOG |About Us | Frequently Asked Questions | Let's Fix Britain in the Media | Contact Us | Join Us | Donate | Philosophies | If I Ruled the World | Does Investigative Journalism Work? | For and Against | Do Consumer Affairs Programs Work? | Strategies | Citizens | UK Volunteering | How You Can Make A Difference | - Is Volunteering Valuable for Furthering Your Career? | Living, Working and Volunteering Abroad: Danielle Lafond Remortgages Her Condo | Being a Local Councillor How to become an independent councillor | Bedfordshire Police Authority | Consumers | Call Centres | Customer Service Fundamentals | Customer Service - A Consultant's Perspcective | Dishonest Advertising | Life Inside a Call Centre | LGOWatch - Watching the Local Government Ombudsman | Problems with the Local Government Ombudsman | Chat with a Spammer | Dabs Direct | Dating Direct | Breast Stroke & Boogie | MatchMakers | Electors | Find Your MP | Campaigns | Crime | Complaints Service | Discussion Forums | Links | Recruit For Us | Fraud on Ebay | LFB in the Media | Conversations | Sponsors | Scrutinizing | The BSE Enquiry | Dixons Anti-Fans | Fundamentals of Cursomer Service | Chat with a SPAMmer | Dating Direct | Post Office Queues & Post Watch | Customer Service from Orange | Why Is It we accept this crud? | Electors | Find out about Your MP | Submitting a bogus MP report | The Duracell Bunny ad campaign | Criticism of OFCOM | Ocean Finance ad campaign | Aston Fox campaign | Cahoot Bank Advertising Practice | Crime | LFB TV | Complaint Letter Writing Service | Online Discussion Forums | Virgin Media-Video-On-Demand | Adversiting Standards Agency Fight | Self help book