Cell C has landed itself in hot water with the Advertising Standards Authority of South Africa (ASA) over an advert quoting consumers calling MTN corrupt, mad and greedy – which was “mistakenly” uploaded to Cell C’s YouTube channel.
The commercial – which according to Cell C was pulled as soon as it had received complaints from MTN – was apparently part of a campaign against MTN over the latter’s court challenges against Icasa’s call termination regulations 2014.
The commercial asked the question: “What’s upsetting South Africans?”
“The National Regulator has ordered cellular networks to reduce interconnect rates. These are the fees that networks charge each other when you make calls from one network to another.”
“Now, if interconnect rates are reduced this will mean more competition in the industry and ultimately could result in lower prices for you. However, not everyone is happy about this.”
“In fact, one of South Africa’s biggest and most profitable cellular companies is taking the Regulator to court to fight this. Here’s what South Africa had to say.”
The commercial then showed different people making the following statements about the unnamed company:
- “It comes down to corporate greed”;
- “It’s not… now it’s corruption. It’s something else now, it’s not a business anymore”;
- “It is not fair, because not all of us [can] afford these costs”;
- “That’s the biggest, biggest madness, what they are doing. That’s rubbish”;
- “So all they’re thinking of is profit, profit, profit”;
- “They’re selfish, because if you have that kind of money and you still want more, that means you’re not thinking about your clients; you’re thinking about yourself”;
- “They should stop stealing our money. They should stop what they are doing”;
- “But I think I should change now. Seriously, if they’re going that route they’re going to lose customers”
- “I’m gonna tell them you’re shooting yourself in the foot, you’re gonna lose all your customers. South Africans aren’t stupid, we all know there’s options, you know.”
The commercial then stated: “So ask yourself – is your network treating you fairly? Maybe you should change to the network who’s on your side.”
MTN argued that consumers would understand the commercial to be referring to its network, and challenged the contents, saying the statements are misleading, dishonest and disparaging.
Cell C: Sorry, our mistake
In response to the complaint, Cell C admitted that the commercial in question was rejected by Cell C’s legal department but, despite this, somehow came to be uploaded to YouTube.
Cell C undertook to not flight it in any form again, and apologised for “the internal mistakes that led to this unfortunate error.”
When pressed by the ASA for a proper response to the specifics of MTN’s complaint, Cell C didn’t deny that ad was referring to MTN, but maintained that it contained true, unscripted responses, and was in the public interest.
In ruling on the matter, the ASA noted that, irrespective of the “unscripted” nature of the statements, the responses were emotive and subjective, and not relaying any facts in the public interest.
“These emotive statements communicate to consumers that MTN is greedy and corrupt, and that they are stealing consumers’ money. These statements are clearly disparaging of MTN,” the ASA said.
The ASA ordered Cell C to not use the commercial, or any of the statements that were found to be disparaging, again in future.
Additionally, Cell C may find itself with stronger sanctions against it after all matters in the recent campaign against MTN – which have been brought before the ASA – have been ruled on.