MTN in trouble for offering “unlimited” minutes

The Advertising Regulatory Board (ARB) has found MTN’s use of the term “unlimited minutes” in its mobile contract advertising to be misleading.

The ARB ruled on a complaint lodged against MTN’s online advertisement promoting its MTN Sky mobile contract.

The complainant argued that the advertisement was misleading as it claimed to offer “unlimited minutes” with an asterisk appended at the end.

However, this offer includes only 3,600 minutes per month, according to MTN’s fair usage policy for the Sky mobile product.

MTN response to this complaint included the following:

  • The term “Unlimited” has become common in the industry to refer to products offering excessive amounts of voice, data, or SMS allocations. These products are typically top-tiered, and more expensive, thus necessitating comprehensive comparison before contracting.
  • Reliance on asterisks for this purpose is common in the advertising industry, and consumers would instinctively understand the intention behind such an asterisk.
  • The ARB previously ruled that asterisks are used to alert consumers that material terms are applicable and terms and conditions apply to the promotion.

“Unlimited” is misleading

The ARB said it found in previous rulings that the term “unlimited” should refer to offerings where there is no limitation.

“It appears that it is common cause that the minutes are limited to 3600 minutes per month,” the ARB added.

“It is quite correct that the Directorate of the ARB has accepted that an asterisk and accompanying clarification can be used to expand on or clarify an offer.”

“However, one cannot, in the terms and conditions, correct a misleading impression already created in the advertising.”

The ARB also referred to previous claims of “unlimited” versus “uncapped”, stating that while the latter may have some limitations, the definition of the first is literally “not limited”.

“To say that there are ‘unlimited’ minutes and then clarify that the minutes are limited to 3,600 is like saying that an item is free, except that you have to pay for some of it,” the ARB said.

It added that the word “unlimited” is not jargon and is an ordinary word with an absolutely clear meaning. Whether other companies are also misusing the word does not change this fact, it said.

The ARB found that the claim “unlimited minutes” creates a misleading impression, and ordered MTN to withdraw the claim from every medium in which it appears with immediate effect.

This must be completed within two weeks, the ARB said, and the claim must not be used again in its current format.

A screenshot of the offending claim is shown below.

MTN ARB claim

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MTN in trouble for offering “unlimited” minutes