The direct mail advertising provided the following information:
The front of the envelope stated “FINAL BILL NOTICE”
The letter stated:
“To the householder,
THIS IS YOUR FINAL NOTICE FOR ELECTRICITY BILLS, WE’RE CUTTING THEM OFF!
No one likes nasty surprises, least of all the surprise of an unexpected bill. Not knowing how much you’ll be charged, and only finding out at the last minute when the money will be taken from your account, can leave you feeling out of control. So switch to PrePayPower and give your electricity provider their final bill notice.
SWITCHING IS QUICK, EASY AND PUTS YOU BACK IN CHARGE OF COSTS
Switching to PrePayPower is your chance to bin those electricity bills once and for all and regain control over how much you’re spending on electricity.
It only takes 40 minutes to install your Smart PrePay System. With one quick phone call we can arrange an installation at a time that suits you. And there are no set-up fees*, which means you’re saving from day one.
Have a read of the enclosed leaflet for more information and call us at the freephone number below with any questions you might have.
JOIN THE 90,000 CUSTOMERS WHO HAVE ALREADY SAID GOODBYE TO HUGE ELECTRICITY BILLS FOREVER!
End the nightmare of electricity bills, with PrePayPower.
Head of Direct Marketing
P.S. You’ll be in total control the moment you switch, and our FREE Welcome Top Up means you’re already on the way to saying goodbye to electricity bills, forever.
Freephone Now 1800 … Click now prepaypower.ie
*Terms and conditions apply - see brochure for details.”
The common theme running through the complaints was that the advertisers were using threatening, scaremongering language to advertise their services. One complainant considered that it was not immediately clear from the material received that it contained advertising material and as such considered it could cause fear and distress to the elderly or those living alone. Another complainant considered that the envelope with the reference to “FINAL NOICE” could be damaging to his reputation.
The advertisers said that their “Final Bill Reminder” campaign was intended to inform consumers that if they switched to PrePayPower that their next electricity bill could be their last. They said their intention had been to be upfront and informative with their advertising, it had never been their intention to cause fear or distress with their marketing material.
The advertisers acknowledged that they should have made it clearer that their reference to “Final Bill Reminder” was not in fact a final demand but an opportunity to say goodbye to bills forever. While their leaflet inside did make this clarification they said this should also have been made clear from the envelope. They said that after trialling the campaign, it became evident to them that it was causing distress to a number of people and they changed the envelope to read “WE’LL NEVER SEND YOU A FINAL BILL NOTICE BECAUSE WE DON’T SEND BILLS!” They said that the advertising would not be used in its original format again.
The Complaints Committee considered the detail of the complaints and the advertisers’ response. They considered that the advertisers had caused unnecessary fear and distress to consumers with their direct mailing which had not been clearly identified as a marketing communication. They also considered that the advertising material was misleading as it had not been clearly identified as such. The Committee upheld the complaints under Sections, 228 and 2.57 of the Code.
The Complaints Committee, while upholding the complaints made against the original marketing material, noted the amendments made by the advertisers to their advertising campaign. They considered however, that the text used in relation to the fact that they never send bills to be insufficient in size when compared to the reference used to “Final Bill Notice”. They considered that the overall message was still unclear to consumers and advised the advertisers that they should consider making further amendments to their advertising in line with the above sections of the Code.