The Advertising Standards Authority of South Africa (ASA) has ruled in favour of MTN’s complaints against radio and TV advertisements by Cell C that are said to poke fun at the yellow network’s “MTN Zone” product.
According to the ASA ruling, Cell C aired a commercial on TV that opens with one man saying to another “Damn! I’m out of the zone.”
MTN’s lawyers argued that in the context of the rest of the commercial, Cell C was disparaging MTN Zone as no other mobile network operator in SA uses the term “zone” in its advertisements.
Cell C’s lawyers responded that it is permissible in terms of the ASA code to have a “dig” at competitors as a secondary communication in an advertisement. They went on to argue that the word “zone” was used within the ordinary meaning of the word.
In its ruling on the matter, the ASA pointed out that the code does not allow advertisements to attack, discredit or disparage other products, services, advertisers or advertisements directly or indirectly.
“Comparisons highlighting a weakness in an industry or product will not necessarily be regarded as disparaging when the information is factual and in the public interest,” the ASA explained. “It further states that the ASA shall take cognisance of what it considers to be the intention of the advertiser.”
The ASA upheld MTN’s complaint, ruling as follows:
The commercial adds no value to the MTN Zone product, and goes beyond merely introducing a new alternative to existing pre-paid cell phone offers. The commercial seeks to promote Cell C’s new 99c for Real product by devaluing and “trashing” MTN’s “Zone” product. The gesture of the cell phone being emphatically slapped out of Man One’s hand by Man Two, together the words “So if you’re not on nine nine… you’re wasting airtime”, communicate that people should stop using MTN Zone and should opt for Cell C’s 99c for Real product. This constitutes disparagement.
It is worth noting that MTN’s decision to lodge competitor complaints with the ASA came after they ran ads that hit back at Cell C.
The radio ad embedded below clearly has MTN poking fun at the “Papa” character in Cell C’s new advertisements.
MTN lodged two competitor complaints, one for a TV ad and one for a radio ad, asking in both cases that sanctions be imposed on Cell C.
In its ruling against a Cell C radio commercial, the ASA delivered a similar rebuke as its ruling on the TV ad, and spelled out the procedure to be followed before deciding on sanctions:
The complainant submitted that the radio commercial was specifically targeted at its products with a clear intent to disparage, and accordingly asked for additional sanctions to be imposed on the respondent. The complainant will first be given 10 days to comment, after which the respondent will be given 10 days to comment.