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UK advertising watchdog raps ruler on O2's hand over misleading ads for iPad and Surface Pro deals

£9 a month mumble mumble, terms and conditions apply

The Advertising Standards Agency (ASA) has put O2 on the naughty step after it deemed two of its print adverts for the iPad and Surface Pro tablets misled customers about the overall cost.

The first ad to earn the watchdog's ire said: "Chill out with the amazing iPad for less than £9 a month. For the first 3 months." The second followed the same playbook: "Chill out with the Microsoft Surface Pro X for less than £31 a month. For the first 3 months."

Buried beneath both adverts was small print describing the finer details of the contract, including the tablets' price after the teaser rate expired, and the fact that contracts would be subject to adjustment each year based on the prevailing inflation rate.

The investigation was prompted by a complaint from BT, which owns O2's rival network EE and is itself no stranger to the ASA probing its services from time to time (see here and here for the most recent examples.

In its ruling, the ASA argued that O2 should have displayed both prices — the teaser rate and the later prevailing monthly cost — in the advert's main body. The ASA also took umbrage at the hushed way O2 mentioned annual price increases, noting it was "not sufficiently prominent" given its absence from the headline claim.

O2 cannot rerun those ads in their current form, per the advertising watchdog. Any future promotional spots must make the above details clearer by including them in the advert's main body.

An O2 spokesperson claimed: “As a customer-led organisation O2 is committed to compelling offers. We set out these adverts in line with guidelines on price increases and made clear the offers were for three months.”

BT refused to comment.

It's perhaps pertinent to note that this isn't the first time in recent months that a major UK telco has earned the ASA ire. In March, the agency upheld a complaint against an advert from Three, which said: "If it's not Three, it's not real 5G." That bold claim — which, obviously, is nonsense — was juxtaposed next to some knock-off action figures with names like "Special Man" and "Burt Sampson."

Three's controversial ad provoked a somewhat ecumenical complaint, with BT (again) and Vodafone both moaning to the regulator. An unnamed mobile industry consultant and five other members of the public also filed a whinge.

Again, the ASA ordered the ad to be discontinued in its present form. So long, Burt Sampson. We barely knew you. ®

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