Vodafone "Vodem" Advertisements
Meeting 12 June 2007
Complainant: V. Allan
Advertisement: Vodafone New Zealand Limited
Complaint: The brochure advertisement was headed:
home & away"
Text below said:
"no longer is your internet access confined to one computer. Meet vodem(TM)
plugs into your usb slot and self installs in moments. ... get the
freedom to move like never before."
A condition at the bottom of the page said:
"Subject to Vodafone 3G Broadband coverage."
Complainant, V. Allan, said:
"... enclosed is a copy of my letter to Vodafone regarding my situation. I think it will indicate my complete dissatisfaction with the VODEM product and lack of service, combined with misleading advertising..
It took visits to 5 Vodafone outlets, (after returning from overseas) before I was offered the enclosed brochure. ...
Paragraph 1. "take your high speed access with you, whenever and wherever you happen to be. Just pick it up and go."" My letter sets out details that are contrary to that statement.. It seems that the unit must be setup for local N.Z use (CORRECTLY) and again for overseas use, as I found. Then again when returning home
Paragraph 2 ...."( a new super fast, super simple broadband service" .....at home or overseas" It is obvious to me that, although I made it quite clear I wanted to use the unit in Thailand, that the service available there is sub standard, very slow and intermittent.. Almost useless as far as I am concerned.
Paragraph 3. Access things "INSTANTLY'". No way this takes considerable time in N.Z and overseas a number of minutes, and then is intermittent and has to be closed down and restarted.
Paragraph 4. ""...of course you can go global..." but how restricted are the services and where there is no 3G coverage, what is the position.
Paragraph 5.. "self installs in moments" This does not self install and there are stepson the way that have to be manually activated.
"self installs in seconds" refer above.
"via any computer" It seems that it has to be set up differently with a home PC, and laptop. That is my experience anyhow.
Paragraph 6. I have never been offered this option, and perhaps with only small usage this would have suited me. Having not seen the brochure, I assumed there were no options other than what I was presented with.
PARAGRAPH 7. "Broadband starter" may well have suited me but never mentioned or offered.
PARAGRAPH 8. Does not say what happens to those who opt for 200mb plan
PARAGRAPH 9. Confusing to say the least. Not sure how I would use 40,000 emails in a month ,or 1600 web pages. Or 4000 word documents. I do not work with music or movie trailers???
PARAGRAPH 10 No idea how this works or "IF" it works and of course WHERE IT WORKS
PARAGRAPH 11. Surely this should have been brought to my attention and explained fully.
ITEM 12. This is a picture of the VODEM advertising on the windows of most Vodafone shops. It gives a rather different suggestion of the system,from what I experienced.
I signed a form headed APPLICATION FOR ORGANISATION. ... Seems an unusual title. This was put in front of me for signature..) signed before reading completely. (Would take considerable time) I did not notice a tick against PRICING PLAN. I later found this was on the reverse side of the page .This page largely ,really does not appear to be relevant to VODUM USE anyhow
Attached is a pink copy of TERMS AND CONDITIONS FOR ACCOUNT HOLDERS. With the same number. This would take a couple of hours to read, and then would be unclear, I suggest.
I am sure you an obtain copies of the above documents for evaluation.
My credit card has been debited with a charge for the actual MODEM which I authorised , and a TAX INVOICE has been supplied. In addition I have received a couple of days later an unauthorised charge for $30, N0 REASON AND NO TAX INVOICE.
As far as communication is concerned, to date I have received no acknowledgement of my letter or even a phone call. ...
I have just received an invoice for the current monthly period of use. The VODUM has not been out of my satchel since reporting problems to Vodafone, more than a month ago.. It will not connect, since returning from Thailand.
I find the total matter most disconcerting, and would appreciate your response, as soon as possible."
The Chairman ruled that the following provision was relevant:
Code of Ethics
Rule 2: Truthful Presentation - Advertisements should not contain any statement or visual presentation or create an overall impression which directly or by implication, omission, ambiguity or exaggerated claim is misleading or deceptive, is likely to deceive or mislead the consumer, makes false and misleading representation, abuses the trust of the consumer or exploits his/her lack of experience or knowledge. (Obvious hyperbole, identifiable as such, is not considered to be misleading).
The Advertiser, Vodafone New Zealand Limited, said:
"Thank you for giving us this opportunity to respond to your letter, which notes that the Complaints Board has accepted V. Allan's complaint only in respect of the advertised claims "Broadband everywhere" and "Self-installs in moments".
Your letter attaches V. Allan's 23 April letter headed "Re Vodafone brochure herewith, which I consider as MISLEADING.". V. Allan's letter attaches in turn:
An earlier letter he sent us dated 24March 2007
An annotated picture of one of our window displays
An annotated copy of one of our Broadband Everywhere newspaper advertisements
An annotated copy of our brochure,
Our response takes its lead from your letter, and focuses on our brochure and the claims you specify. It is difficult, however, to do so without reference to the service issues V. Allan has raised with us. V. Allan's particular concern in relation to the claim "Broadband everywhere" clearly derives from his discovery that there is no coverage in Thailand, a restriction we believe our brochure communicates. As for our claim that the vodem "self-installs in moments" there is little we can usefully say in this context other than to insist that we stand firmly behind it. V. Allan appears to have had a connectivity problem, and says his vodem has not worked since he returned from overseas. This suggests a technical set up issue and is more likely to be user related than a product failure, but we do not yet know why V. Allan's vodem did not perform to expectation.
Retailer issues and customer experience are of course crucial to Vodafone, and our customer service and finance teams are currently pursuing a solution for V. Allan.
V. Allan's 23 April letter nowhere uses the words "Broadband Everywhere", but the annotations made to the attached copy of our brochure, and the phrases he cites from brochure paragraphs 1, 2 and 4 indicate that his grievance stems from his experience with vodem in Thailand, and supports the Board's decision to identify this claim as the crux of his complaint.
The claim "Broadband Everywhere" asserts vodem's distinguishing feature - vodem is a mobile broadband solution. Like all mobile solutions, the product is subject to coverage, and our brochure takes pains to communicate that limitation. The statement from paragraph1 of our brochure which V. Allan cites -"take your high speed access with you, whenever and wherever you appear to be" - is footnoted "subject to Vodafone 3G broadband coverage". From paragraph 2 of the brochure Mr Allan selects the sentence- "Wherever you go, whether you are working, or playing on a pc or laptop at home or roaming overseas", but again overlooks the asterix and qualifying footnote warning that mobile broadband access is subject to coverage. From paragraph 4 of the brochure V. Allan correctly quotes the phrase "of course your can go global" but he does not finish the sentence. The omitted words are to crucial "with access to 3G broadband services in ten countries already and more joining all the time." Why would V. Allan or another reader assume that Thailand was one of those 10 countries?
V. Allan's selective read of our brochure makes no mention of our brochure's claim that vodem "lets you seamlessly roam worldwide, in countries like the USA, Australia,
and the UK". On most common scales, Thailand is not like the USA, Australia, and the UK. Again, upon what basis would V. Allan or another reader assume it was?
Our brochure deliberately alerts readers to the limitations of coverage. Under the head "other things you want to know" the brochure answers the question "what happens on non-coverage areas?" On its last page our brochure invites readers "to find out more". We believe that customers wanting to take advantage of mobile broadband in a particular overseas destination would understand from the brochure the importance of taking up the invitation to find out about coverage there.
Vodafone very much regrets that V. Allan was not better advised about coverage in Thailand when he made the enquiry he did, but shortcomings at point of sale are not the subject of the complaint before the Board. If V. Allan had, as our brochure directs, visited our website vodafone.co.nz, he would have seen it clearly stated there that Thailand is not a broadband or 3G country.
V. Allan's 23 April letter and enclosures cover a range of grievances. We have tried in our response to focus only on those issues to which you have directed us, while we separately pursue a resolution with V. Allan. If in doing so we have not satisfied your request for comments relating to Code of Ethics - Rule 2, or there are further questions the Board requires answered please do not hesitate to contact us."
The Complaints Board perused the complaint and the correspondence before it relating to the complaint. It noted Complainant, V. Allan was of the view that the advertisement made claims which were misleading to the consumer.
The Chairman directed the Complaints Board to consider the complaint with regard to Rule 2 of the Code of Ethics.
As a preliminary matter the Complaints Board clarified that the Chairman had accepted the complaint in relation to the claims "Broadband everywhere", and that the vodem "self-installs in moments", but not any of the other issues raised by the complainant concerning customer service, as these fell outside of its jurisdiction which was confined to the content in advertisements.
The task before the Complaints Board was to determine whether in its view the brochure advertisement contained any statement or visual presentation which was false and misleading and thereby likely to mislead the consumer.
The Complaints Board noted that V. Allan had found that the product did not meet his expectations and he had experienced technical and customer service problems. It noted from Vodafone's response that these issues were being addressed.
Turning to the advertisement the majority of the Complaints Board was of the view that the claim "Broadband everywhere home & away" was sufficiently qualified by the conditions contained in the brochure which said: "subject to Vodafone 3G broadband coverage" and the explanation that the service was currently available in ten countries which included the USA, Australia and Canada. It noted the brochure also included the question "what happens on non-coverage areas?" and provided a website address for customers "to find out more". Accordingly, in the majority view the brochure advertisement, although it relied on a fair amount of application of common-sense on the part of the consumer, would not be likely to mislead the consumer and thereby it was not in breach of Rule 2 of the Code of Ethics.
On the other hand, the minority was of the view that the heading contained a broad and absolute claim "Broadband everywhere home & away" - and that conditions in small text placed apart from the main offer, limiting the offer significantly, were not appropriate to inform consumers of the limitations around the offer, as those conditions were not clear and obvious to the consumer which was the standard required by the Complaints Board for advertisements of the nature before it. Furthermore, the ten countries in which the service was available were not listed and thereby it was not clear to the Complainant that Thailand was not one of those countries. Having made these observations, the minority was of the view that the advertisement contained and exaggerated claim and as such would be likely to mislead the consumer. As such, the minority ruled that the advertisement was in breach of Rule 2 of the Code of Ethics.
In accordance with the majority view, the Complaints Board ruled to not uphold the complaint.
Decision: Complaint Not Upheld