Stop Tricks, Try Engaging - Telcos Get New ASA Rules

It must have been good while it lasted, but the ASA has finally taken action against the telecoms operators. From now on, those broadband ads that have become ever more creative over the past couple of years have got to do something else -- be accurate.

I do wonder sometimes whether marketers are blind to how the short-term practice of trying to pull the wool over the eyes of consumers simply turns us off in the long run. For all the talk of "engagement." you have to wonder if they ever think that lack of interaction could be due to the fact that the average customer is smarter than they think and simply doesn't believe them any more. Put it another way -- have you ever trusted the fuel economy figures published by a the maker of a car you're interested in? What about the pollution levels, or more specifically, what about the emissions levels post the VW scandal? Have you ever wondered what on earth all those figures mean on a utility bill? Anyone got a clue how long their standard and peak charges are for and how much energy per month comes with the standing charge and when you start paying more? I thought not.

The telecoms operators are just as bad. If I had a pound for every time they've put up ads offering "free" and "unlimited" broadband I'd probably have enough to pay for a super-fast connection for the rest of my life. Or would I? It's hard to tell.

The smart ones among us realise there is no such thing as free, but it's hard to know how much we're actually going to pay for this free offer. It's reassuring, then, to see ASA say the rules will change in spring and the telecoms operators will need to start saying what is really behind their offers. In other words, the price of the broadband will have to be mentioned -- as well as, crucially, how much the required line rental is and how long the offer lasts for and what the cost will be afterwards combined with notification of how long you need to sign up for to get the deal.

I have to say when I recently called BT to sign up to super-fast "Infinity" broadband they were very clear about this and emailed the full proposal for me to agree to. So I don't think the problem is in the customer service, it's more the poster or the 30-second tv spot that people are beginning to realise is simply not telling the whole truth.

Talk Talk has been one of the first to mention the fly in the ointment. The new rules are good ,but they would do damage to anyone trying to be too honest while others don't follow suit. In one statement they have underscored why there had to be new rules and why we're in such a state that they had to be brought in. If no brand dares to be honest, you know the industry has a problem.

It's the same across all the utilities that are effectively selling very similar products with different attractive offers which are somehow made up for somewhere else, whether it's charging more for something in the background or signing customers in to longer contracts. It was for the latter reason that BT got told off by ASA last year. It claimed its BT Sports service was free for BT Broadband customers. It kind of is, but it required you sign a new contract that keeps a customers tied in for way longer than before they decided to opt for the "free" service.

It's good that the ASA is taking action. Not only will it help consumers make better decisions, but it will also protect the telecoms operators from themselves and their vacuous claims we know aren't true and just undermines confidence in the industry as a whole.

If markets want to be engaged with, they need to start crediting customers with a little more common sense -- or at least be regulated into doing so.

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