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Advertiser: UPC Communications Ireland Limited
Medium: Online - Company Website
ASAI Code 6th Edition: 2.22, 2.24, 2.41
Copies of the marketing communications were forwarded as screenshots by the complainant in this case.
The screenshots from the UPC website all showed the onscreen date normally found at the bottom right hand corner of the taskbar. The date shown was 23/1/2014.
The first webpage showed a number of UPC products, with a price, an ‘order now’ button, the activation fee and the number of channels available with the product. The second webpage showed the Order Confirmation Page for the Digital Value+ product, which set out the price, the activation fee and some detail on the product. The third webpage, also for the Digital Value+ product, a “Your details” page, was for consumers to enter their details and it also showed a price overview.
The fourth webpage was headed “Changes to UPC prices from 1 March 2014”. It included detail on the price changes and for the three TV products an asterisk was beside the prices linked to a footnote which stated “These prices are inclusive of the €3.50 Self-serve Discount which is applied monthly.”
Sky referred to an announcement by UPC that a number of their products would increase from 1 March 2014. They said that UPC’s standard TV prices would change in the manner set out in the table below:
Package Cost per month Cost per Change in € % Change
month before month after
1 March 2014 1 March 2014
Digital Value €28.50 €32.50 €4 14%
Digital Select Extra€34.50 €39.50 €5 14.5%
Digital Max €37.50 €41.50 €5 13%
Horizon Select Extra €40.00 €39.50 -€0.50 -1.25%
Horizon Max €42.00 €42.50 €0.50 1%
They explained that customers could avail of a discount of €3.50 on the prices above but only if they also signed up to UPC’s self-service feature (’My UPC), a service which would allow customers to view their bills online, make account contact changes etc.
Sky explained that they wished to raise two separate concerns in relation to UPC’s advertising and the manner in which they were communicating the price increase on their website.
The complainants said that as of 23rd January 2014, UPC’s website still featured the pre-March 2014 pricing and that no reference was made to the pricing after 1 March 2014. They considered that customers signing up to the above services on 23rd January would only see the current prices notwithstanding the fact that these prices would increase by up to 14.5% on 1 March 2014. Customers would only be entitled to avail of the advertised pricing for 1 month and for the remainder of their contract (at least another 11 months) they would need to pay the new pricing.
In their view the complainants said that the omission of any reference to the price increase and the post 1 March 2014 pricing was likely to mislead customers and was an omission of material information required by the average consumer to make a transactional decision. It was their view that the omission of the post 1 March 2014 was a breach of Paragraph 2.24 of the Code of Standards for Advertising, Promotional and Direct Marketing in Ireland (the "Code").
The complainants referred to the price change notification on the UPC website (http://www.upc.ie/pricechanges/), (one of the screenshots they forwarded). They said it outlined how the advertisers’ TV pricing would change from 1 March 2014. The updated prices included in this notification referenced the new pricing less the “discount” of €3.50 referred to above. They explained that a customer must have access to internet services and register for ‘My UPC’ in order to avail of this discount. They said that the actual price of the product was €3.50 more expensive than the price displayed on the webpage.
Sky went on to say that while an asterisk was included next to the pricing, it was their view that UPC had failed in its obligations under the Code (Paragraphs 2.41 and 2.42 in particular). The headline price was contradicted by the asterisk which actually indicated that the price was €3.50 more if the conditions could not be met.
In their view, by displaying the discounted price as a headline, UPC had not displayed material information that the average consumer would need to make an informed transactional decision. It was their view that headlining a discounted price which was only available when certain conditions were met was likely to mislead the average consumer and could not comply with the Code. Sky believed that the appropriate display would have been to express the price change and the new price and then refer to the discount available if certain conditions were fulfilled (similar they said to the notification letter sent by UPC to their existing customers but broken down by product).
The advertisers said that they did not consider that they had engaged in any misleading advertising campaign as alleged by the complainants. They said that they were entirely satisfied that the price change campaign included all relevant information required by the average consumer to make an informed transactional decision, and that UPC was not in breach of the ASAI Code.
In relation to the UPC Website Pricing, the advertisers said that they had announced a price change that would come into effect on the 1st of March 2014. Prior to that date, they had ensured that all customers were fully informed of the impending price changes, in particular by way of the following:
• On the 22nd of January 2014, they launched a specific “Price Change” web page indicating that prices for some services would be changing from the 1st of March and explaining these changes. They also provided links from each “Product Detail” page advising customers that their prices would be changing on the 1st of March and directing them to the “Price Change” web page. They also made additional enhancements to the website to provide further text informing customers that prices would be changing on the “Shopping Basket” page. Screenshots from the Horizon Complete Bundle webpages were included with the advertisers’ response. This text stated “From 1st March 2014 some prices will change and we will introduce a new Self-serve Discount. Click here to find out more”. The ‘click here’ link brought consumers to the Price Change webpage where details of the changes were set out.
• The advertisers explained that they had carried out extensive briefing and training with all UPC Sales and Customer Support staff to ensure they advised customers purchasing new services that some prices would be changing come the 1st of March 2014.
• There was also extensive communication by letter and email to all customers affected by the price change, detailing the exact change to their price and providing them with all requisite information.
• They said that they also added clear and specific text to the “Order Confirmation” email again reminding customers that prices would be changing and referring them to the website for any further information.
The advertisers considered that given the steps they had taken it was incorrect for the complainants to state that customers signing up during February would only have seen the February prices.
They entirely refuted the assertion that there had been an omission of any reference to the March price increase that was “likely to mislead customers” such as to breach Paragraph 2.24 of the Code. They said that there had been no inaccuracy, ambiguity, exaggeration, omission or otherwise between UPC and their customers on the price change plan and all prices had been explicitly set out and explained to both existing and future customers.
They added that they noted that the complainants had in fact accepted that information was provided on their “Price Change” webpage as they specifically referred to it in their complaint.
In relation to the complaint concerning the UPC Self-Serve Discount, the advertisers said that from the 1st of March 2014 they had introduced a Self-serve Discount for customers who chose to register for My UPC. This was intended to help customers manage their UPC account more effectively.
With regard to Sky’s assertion that there had been a breach of Paragraph 2.41 of the Code, the advertisers considered that this was completely untrue and unfounded as the price was displayed clearly on all communications and “relates to the product depicted and specified in the marketing communication”, in accordance with Paragraph 2.41. They said that the illustrated products available from UPC matched the prices displayed with each product and that there was nothing omitted from the customer in the communication.
In relation to Paragraph 2.42 of the Code, they said that they had included statements on all marketing materials and online through the customer purchase journey to explain that customers who were not registered for My UPC would be charged €3.50 per month. They believed that this conformed to the letter and sentiment of the Code (2.42 “where applicable…the amounts of any other charges…should be stated”) as such charge was clearly stated along with the definition of when it was applicable.
The advertisers said that it was their view that this complaint by Sky was seeking to use the Code to reduce their ability to clearly communicate to the consumer the benefits of their services and products. Reducing their ability to communicate clearly to consumers would have a detrimental effect on consumers and they urged the ASAI to consider this carefully when looking at the merit or otherwise of Sky’s complaint.
The advertisers also said that those unable to register online could do so over the telephone through their customer care agents who had been specifically trained to help customers with registering.
The Complaints Committee considered the detail of the complaint and the advertisers’ response.
Complaint 1: Upheld
The Complaints Committee understood that unlike the situation with some other services, where a contract price stayed the same for the duration of the contract period, consumers who signed up to the advertisers’ services before 1s March would be subject to a price change from 1st March. They noted that the advertisers had forwarded screenshots of various webpages which included text in relation to the price change but that equally the complainants had forwarded (dated) screenshots of other webpages where it was not included. They noted that the advertisers had accepted that there were some webpages that had not included reference to the price change.
The Complaints Committee considered an unavoidable price change was a significant fact and should have been stated on each relevant product page from the date on which is was announced. They considered that the advertisers had not demonstrated that all the relevant webpages had included the relevant text and found therefore that the marketing communications on webpages for products other than Horizon Complete Bundle to be in breach of section 2.22 and 2.24 of the Code.”
Complaint 2: Not Upheld
The Complaints Committee referred to their adjudication in Case 16068 where they had found the inclusion of a cost in the quoted annual charge, which was payable when consumers chose to pay monthly, was in breach of the Code because the advertising had not referred to the inclusion of the surcharge in the quoted rates.
They noted that at issue in this complaint was the inclusion of a discount in the quoted rate which was only available to consumers who signed up for the My UPC service. They noted that consumers could register online or by telephone and that nobody was excluded from registering for the discount.
The Committee noted that the presentation (that the price included the My UPC discount) was clear and that the process to avail of the discount, whilst based on consumer choice, was not onerous. In these circumstances, they did not consider that the practice was likely to mislead consumers and therefore was not in breach of the Code.
The Complaints Committee told the advertisers that where price changes or similar occur in future they must ensure that consumers are appropriately advised regardless of their journey through the advertisers’ website.”