Cell C 99c “most affordable” ads can stay… for now

A recent ruling from the Advertising Standards Authority of South Africa (ASA) has dismissed a complaint about Cell C’s claim that its 99c For Real offering is “The most affordable flat rate to any network, any place, any time”.

According to the ASA, the complaint argued that Telkom’s Sim-Sonke product was cheaper than Cell C’s For Real tariff plan.

Telkom Mobile subscribers on the Sim-Sonke tariff plan pay 29c/minute to call Telkom Mobile numbers and 75c/minute for calls to other networks. Both types of calls are billed per second.

The complaint said that this means that Cell C’s claim is untrue and misleading.

Cell C responds

Responding to the complaint on behalf of Cell C, Clear Copy argued that the prices on Sim-Sonke are firstly not a flat-rate, and secondly not available “any place, any time”.

“The Telkom rate is not flat rate, because it requires an opt-in to this particular package, and depends on who you are phoning,” Clear Copy said.

At the time the complaint was laid with the ASA, the Sim-Sonke rates only applied when subscribers were within the coverage area of Telkom Mobile’s network and not in the areas where it relies on its roaming agreement with MTN.

Cell C has a similar roaming agreement in place with Vodacom, and its 99c/minute rate was available regardless of whether subscribers are connected to the Vodacom or Cell C networks.

Upon request for verification of its counter-claims, Clear Copy submitted (among other things) independent verification from Prof. Nicola Theron of Econex, which the ASA said concluded that “… when one looks at the packages of the other network operators as a whole as well as Cell C’s 99c offer, the claim made by Cell C … is therefore correct”.

Telkom Mobile prepaid SIM Sonke
Telkom Mobile prepaid SIM Sonke

ASA Directorate ruling

In its ruling on the matter, the ASA Directorate said that for the purposes of this case it would only concern itself with the comparison between Sim-Sonke and 99c For Real.

Similar to the way Clear Copy broke down Cell C’s claim in its response, the ASA said that the statement specifies the following conditions under which it is “most affordable”:

  • “to any network” (even to its competitors)
  • “any place” (irrespective of where in South Africa one is phoning from or to)
  • “any time” (i.e. not limited to certain times of the day).

The ASA sided with Cell C, indicating that since the claim is qualified in this way it is neither unsubstantiated nor misleading.

Use of the term “affordable” rather than “cheapest” also counts in Cell C’s favour, the ASA suggested, as it could be argued that Cell C’s flat rate of 99c is more affordable than Sim-Sonke.

This is because the 29c/minute and 75c/minute call rates of Sim-Sonke no longer apply to subscribers that fall outside Telkom Mobile’s coverage, the ASA said.

It is worth noting that since this complaint was filed, Telkom Mobile announced that its Sim-Sonke rates now apply whether subscribers are on its network or roaming on MTN.

Whether this change will affect future complaints similar to this one remains to be seen.

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Cell C 99c “most affordable” ads can stay… for now