Standard Bank's data plans
  • Standard Bank has been told to fix an ad on its website for a complicated scheme that involves paying a subscription to get cheaper per-MB data, which is then linked to bank charges.
  • A complainant just misinterpreted the deal, Standard Bank told the Advertising Regulatory Board (ARB).
  • But the ARB says the complicated math involved helps to make the data deal ambiguous – and a supposed explanation just makes things worse.
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South Africa's advertising regulator has banned Standard Bank from using an advertisement requiring "complicated mathematical reasoning" to understand what customers will pay for data.

The Advertising Regulator Board (ARB) on Tuesday published a ruling in favour of a complainant who said Standard Bank gives the impression that subscription fees for its scheme buys airtime credit – when in fact it only buys cheaper data prices, but no actual data.

Standard Bank had told the ABR the complainant had simply misunderstood its offer, which is properly explained.

Standard Bank customers have the option to pay between R49 and R249 per month to take part in the data scheme. That subscription payment is an entry ticket of sorts, but does not come with any airtime. Instead, customers who take part can claim back the equivalent of the bank-account fee they pay Standard Bank as “free” data. How much they pay to subscribe to the deal determines how their data is counted against their account fees; at R49 data is counted at 15c per MB, and for R249 Standard Bank will count each MB at 5c.

For those without a subscription, data is priced at 49c per MB.

Similar packages are available for voice.

Understanding the implications of that is hard, the ARB said. A customer thinking of using the R149 subscription plan has to divide that fee by R0.49 to figure out they could start to break even on the up-front fee after using 304MB of data – and would then have to calculate how that benefits them based on their account fee and the 7c per MB that comes with the R149 plan. 

It is reasonable – and likely – that consumers would simply look at on offer of R149 for data at 7c per MB, and assume they are buying R149 worth of airtime, the ARB said.

"In addition, consumers are currently familiar with advertisements by different service providers offering deals and plans in a form of subscription contracts with airtime, data or sms bundles already included in the monthly subscription fee. Consumers might, therefore, combined with the fact that the advertisement is leading with the headlines 'Data Plans' and 'Voice Plans', understand this plan to be similar to those that they are familiar with."

Standard Bank had failed to make it clear enough "that the promoted monthly fees do not carry any airtime credit but only gives the subscribers an opportunity to be charged at a lower rate when using data or voice calls, over and above the plan cost," the ARB said. 

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