Consumers take issue with misleading adverts

2014-10-28 00:00

SEVERAL consumers who took issue with misleading advertising won their cases with the Advertising Standards Authority recently after it ordered companies, including Sony Mobile and Cartrack, to withdraw misleading claims.

A consumer, who has asked not to be named, bought a R9 000 Sony Xperia Z1 smartphone, but had to turn as a last resort to the ASA after the “waterproof” cellphone stopped working a day after she used it in water.

And the consumer told me she had tried endlessly to resolve the complaint dealing with Sony Mobile’s local agency and via its call centre that rang to India, where staff apparently had been unable to direct her to the company’s local repair centre.

“Her cellular service provider refused to repair the phone, insisting that it is merely ‘water resistant’, and not ‘waterproof’ as claimed,” the ASA said in its ruling.

According to the ASA the consumer was adamant that the phone’s ports had been properly shut before it was used in water and that she would not have risked deliberately damaging the device. She also mentioned several similar complaints she had seen on an online forum.

Sony Mobile responded, saying that the phone was a “waterproof device” specified by an international standard and that it was “not susceptible to water ingress up to a depth of 1,5 metres for up to 30 minutes”, provided ports were all securely closed.

“The cellular service provider’s assertions that the device is only water-resistant are therefore incorrect … this seems like a product warranty/service/repair query rather than an advertising matter. There seems to be a dispute between the service department and the customer about the source of the water damage,” Sony said.

However, the ASA found in the advertised capabilities of the device, caveats to the claim that the phone was “smart, sleek and waterproof”, were “more aligned with what is commonly understood to be water resistant”.

The ASA said the consumer’s argument appeared to “hold water” and it was “loath” to accept the claim of being “waterproof”. It ruled that the word “waterproof” be withdrawn from all advertising of the phone and that it not be used again in a manner that suggests anything other than water resistant capabilities.

Sony Mobile said last week that it had amended its adverts for the phone to water resistant and that it had appealed the ruling, which was “made on the basis of a warranty claim” and that it was “engaging with ASA in order to clarify the situation”.

“In the complainant’s specific case, their product was defective, and has since been replaced under Sony Mobile’s standard warranty against defects. Unfortunately, in this case, a service provider in the service chain did not follow the correct procedure for evaluating this device, which led to a poor customer experience,” Sony Mobile said.

I found it sad that the consumer had to escalate the case to the ASA in order to obtain redress for a phone that was defective from the outset, but this case shows it certainly pays to persevere.

In another case, a consumer, Nico du Plessis, lodged a complaint against a misleading Cartrack Car Recovery television advert, which he alleged was “confusing and untrue” as it vocally promised the company would give consumers R150 000 in cases where a vehicle was not recovered after theft. But then the payoff line appeared on the screen with the disclaimer, “Your car back or up to R150 000 guaranteed. Ts and Cs apply”.

Cartrack responded saying the message relating to the R150 000 was conveyed in a “clear, impactful and engaging manner” and 10% of the commercial time was “purposely used to deliver this message effectively, ensuring that there would be absolute clarity”.

However, the ASA disagreed saying it “takes issue with the fact that the vocal and the written messages in the commercial are confusing”.

“Advertisements should not contain any statement or visual presentation which, directly or by implication, omission, ambiguity, inaccuracy, exaggerated claim or otherwise, is likely to mislead the consumer,” the ASA said.

The ASA found the advert ambiguous and likely to mislead as it displayed contradicting messages with a disclaimer that was not “sufficient or prominent enough to negate the initial, unqualified promise of R150 000 for any vehicle not recovered”. The ASA ordered that the advert be immediately withdrawn in its present form.

To lodge a complaint with the ASA, visit www.asasa.org.za

• Send your consumer issues to Lyse Comins at consumer@3i.co.za.

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