Sky ad for 'free' calls given six month window by watchdog

A Sky advert offering free telephone calls can be shown for six months according to the advertising regulator after BT complained the ad was misleading. BT said that Sky should not have been able to refer to phone calls as 'free'.

The Advertising Standards Agency (ASA) says that an advertiser can only call something 'free' for a 'reasonable period', after which it is considered to be a normal part of a package of services or products.

It also says that an advertiser cannot describe as 'free' something that is a normal part of a package. "Promoters should not describe an individual element of a package as 'free' if the cost of that element is included in the package price," says its Code.

The advert in question was a press campaign which promoted Sky's bundle of satellite television, internet access and telephone products into a £26 per month package. Headed 'see speak surf', it said: "SPEAK with amazing value Sky Talk. You get free evening and weekend UK landline calls".

BT said that the ad could be misleading because the supposedly free calls had previously been available on the Sky Talk package and should have been taken as an inclusive part of the package and not a free extra.

Sky said that it believed that its 'see speak surf' product was not a 'package' as defined by the ASA Code of Practice because users could choose individual or combined elements of it.

The ASA said that though Sky Talk had been operating since 2003, the offer of calls without charge was different to that previously made.

"We noted Sky Talk had been available since 2003 but that none of the previous call services had offered both evening and weekend calls for no monthly charge to Sky TV customers," said the ruling.

The ASA rejected the idea that 'see speak surf' was not a package, and said that although the company could advertise the calls as free, it could only do so for a limited period.

"We considered that consumers were likely to regard the combination of the 'see speak surf' services for one price as a package and as such the 'free' calls would be seen as one element of that package, which incurred a monthly cost of £26," it said. "Because the calls were a new element of the package and they incurred no extra cost, we considered that the calls could be described as 'free' for a reasonable period."

"We considered, however, that after a reasonable period (in this case six months), because consumers would continue to pay subscription for the whole package and the calls were likely to be seen by consumers as a permanent, standard feature of that package, the calls would be 'inclusive' rather than 'free'," said the ruling.