Chairman's RulingVodafone Direct Mail Advertisement
Meeting 15 April 2009
Complainant: M. Brown
Advertisement: Vodafone New Zealand Limited
Complaint: The advertisement was printed on a Vodafone "Fixed line and broadband Statement & tax invoice".
"We've reduced the cost of our land to mobile calls
So you may notice on this month's bill that we've credited any land to mobile calls you made between April 2008 and February 2009."
Complainant, M. Brown, said:
"Where: See my attached Vodafone statement, in particular the 1st page.
Who: Vodafone NZ
On the first page of my statement there is a box 2/3rd of the way down the page. In that box it states "We've reduced the cost of our land to mobile calls" "So you may notice on this month's bill that we've credited any land to mobile calls you made between April 2008 and February 2009" I contacted Vodafone and was told that they have reduced their land-mobile rate and that the $0.64 credit I see on my statement was the difference in rate for this period of time. However their advertisement/notice seems to mislead by saying "that we've credited any land to mobile calls you made between April 2008 and February 2009".
I would be interested to know if this is an "advertising" error or something else."
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:
"The complaint concerns the following wording (Statement) on an invoice dated 25 March 2009:
We've reduced the cost of our land to mobile calls. So you may notice on this month's bill that we've credited any land to mobile calls you made between Apr/12008 and February2009.
The Statement was generated internally by Vodafone New Zealand Limited (Vodafone). No third party advertising agency was employed.
The complainant does not spell out why the Statement "appears to mislead', but since the explanation for the $0.64 credit he received did not satisfy him, we guess he read some words into the last line of the Statement, specifically we've credited THE ENTIRE COST OF any land to mobile calls you made between April 2008 and February 2009.
If the words we've credited any land to mobile calls you made between April 2008 and February 2009 appeared in isolation, there would be grounds for complaint. But the Statement begins with the bolded sentence We've reduced the cost of our land to mobile calls - reduced, not given away, the cost of those calls. And in the body of the invoice under the head "Recent Transactions" we say it again. We spell it out that the credit follows from a rate reduction, and specify the amount of the credit ($0,64) the complainant received:
0 Feb 2009 Mobile Rate Reduction Credit -0.64
When read as a whole, and in context, we do not believe that the Statement will bear the meaning we attribute to the complainant. We are not aware of any other complaints about the Statement, and think it unlikely that other customers would find it misleading."
The Complaints Board reviewed the relevant correspondence and the advertisement. It noted that the Complainant, M. Brown, was of the view that the advertisement was misleading with regard to the claim "we've credited any land to mobile calls you made between April 2008 and February 2009."
The Chairman directed the Complaints Board to consider the advertisement with reference to Rule 2 of the Code of Ethics. This required the Complaints Board to determine whether the advertisement contained any statement which directly or by implication was likely to deceive or mislead the consumer.
In the first instance the Complaints Board established that the Vodafone "Statement" met the definition of an advertisement which was:
"The word "advertisement" is to be taken in its broadest sense to embrace any form of advertising and includes advertising which promotes the interest of any person, product or service, imparts information, educates, or advocates an idea, belief, political viewpoint or opportunity. The definition includes advertising in all traditional media and new media such as online advertising, including websites. Emails and SMS messaging that are selling or promoting a product, service, idea or opportunity are also covered by the codes, as are neck labels or promotions attached to a product Other examples include posters, pamphlets and billboards (whether stationary or mobile) and addressed or unaddressed mail."
It noted that the advertising message was incorporated in a mailed communication to Vodafone customers.
Turning to the advertisement, it noted that the statement included the following advice:
"20 Feb 2009 Mobile Rate Reduction Credit - 0.64".
Also printed on the statement was information which indicated that the customer had been credited $2.02 for "Recent Transactions" between 1 February and 25 February 2009.
The Complaints Board noted the information subject to complaint read "We've reduced the cost ...", it did not say that there was no cost or charge for the calls specified. This in conjunction with the above information clarified that the "credited" amount offered was equivalent to the reduction offered, and was not a full credit for all such calls.
Accordingly, the Complaints Board said that although in some circumstances "credited" may refer to a rebate of the whole charge, in the matter before it, taking the context into account, the offer was not misleading and thereby was not in breach of Rule 2 of the Code of Ethics.
The Complaints Board ruled to not uphold the complaint.
Decision: Complaint Not Upheld