The retailer fell foul of the toothsome watchdog after people complained that its “upgrades 4u and u and u” ads, aimed at trying to show that people could upgrade with the retailer on any network and not the one they were signed to, were misleading.
They said that the claims didn’t apply to customers on all networks, including Three and Tesco mobile, as the voice over in the comical broadcast ads suggested.
Both ads focused on a range of “comical characters”, being told they could upgrade their phones despite their traits.
The voice over said: “Listen up you lot. You can upgrade your phones at Phones4U”. The ad featured a number of characters with a range of habits such as smelling of fish, keeping a lot of cats and wearing gilets. The voice-over indicated that they could all get upgrades saying “Upgrades for you and you and you at Phones4U”. The on-screen text stated “T&Cs apply”.
In the second ad the voiceover said: “Listen up you lot. You can upgrade your phones at Phones4U.” A woman asked, “I’m scared of long-term commitment. Can I?” The voice-over replied, “I hear you lady. With our exclusive jump contract you could update your phone every 6 months … Upgrades for you and you and you at Phones4U.” The on screen text said: “T&Cs and exclusions may apply”.
When questioned by the watchdog, Phones 4U tried to plead its innocence, telling the ad police that the purpose of the ads was to tell customers that it was possible to upgrade their handsets at its shops. It said there was a common misconception that this could only be done with an existing network provider and that it aimed to show that it offered upgrades on the majority of network providers, even if the customer did not originally get the handset or contract from its stores.
However, the shop chain acknowledged that some networks such as Three and Tesco Mobile were not partnered with it, and so customers of these networks would not be able to upgrade. It said that it had covered itself against this claiming that its “T&Cs apply” text showed there were exclusions, as well as offering further literature on its site to back this up.
However, the ASA remained unimpressed, claiming that the content in the ads suggested that everyone could upgrade as a result of the characters used. It said that while some customers would understand “upgrade” as meaning a new phone, they may not have expected to change networks to do so. And while Phones 4U had tried to cover its back with the on screen text referring to T&Cs, the ASA wasn’t convinced these made it clear that it was only possible to upgrade on certain networks.
As a result the company was ordered not to show the ads again in their current form.
However, the ruling is probably a drop in the ocean for the chain which yesterday announced that it would be expanding its services to the mobile network industry.
The company said it plans to launch its first mobile network – “Life Mobile” – which will run as a mobile virtual network operator on mobile operator EE’s 2G and 3G spectra when it launches in March.