Phone promotion's opt-out was not clear enough

A text message promotion that promised a phone upgrade was misleading and broke rules demanding recipients be offered an opt-out even though it had one in place. The UK's advertising regulator said the opt-out information was not prominent enough.

The Advertising Standards Authority has ruled that World Networks broke its rules when it sent a message to a paid-for list of telephone numbers promising a phone upgrade.

Service providers must offer recipients the opportunity of opting out of receiving messages. Though World Networks did that, the ASA has ruled that it did not make the process easy enough or advertise it clearly enough to stay within the rules.

"World Networks explained that customers could call the local rate number included in the message to request to be taken off their list," explained the ASA ruling. "They said they provided a web address as the sender ID for the message and explained that customers could contact them via the website at no cost. They thought both methods were acceptable under guidelines provided on the Privacy and Electronic Communications (EC Directive) Regulations 2003."

"We noted World Networks' arguments but considered that the message did not make clear that customers could call the sales number or access the website to opt out," said the ASA ruling. "We noted that the Information Commissioner's Office had produced guidance on the Privacy and Electronic Communications (EC Directive) Regulations that stated marketers should provide a postal or email address or a short code number to which recipients could send an opt-out message. We concluded that the message did not give recipients a clear or simple means of opting out of receiving future messages."

The decision will clarify the situation for marketers who may have thought that any opt-out means was enough to fall within the ASA's Committee of Advertising Practice (CAP) Code, and the Privacy and Electronic Communications Regulations.

Three people complained about the promotion, which read: "Orange customer, you may now claim your FREE CAMERA PHONE upgrade for your loyalty. Call now on 0207 386 4925. Offer ends 4th Aug. T&C's apply. Opt-out available".

Complaints claimed that the message misleadingly appeared to be from Orange itself, that it misleadingly suggested every recipient was entitled to an upgrade, that it should not have been sent without recipients' consent, and that its opt out options were not clear enough.

The ASA upheld all four claims, and said that World Networks must contact the ASA before it carried out any further advertising.

"We told World Networks to obtain explicit consent from recipients before sending such text messages in future and reminded them that they should provide a clear and simple means for recipients to opt out of receiving future messages," said the ASA. "We asked them to seek guidance from the CAP Copy Advice team before advertising in future."