• SA’s advertising regulator ruled that MTN’s claim that it offers unlimited minutes is misleading, and the operator has been told to remove the claims within two weeks.
  • In an asterisk at the bottom of the MTN ad, it said the minutes are subject to fair use - which only amounts to 3,600 minutes, or two hours a day, per month. 
  • The regulator said that while it's common practice to use an asterisk, it can’t be used to correct a misleading claim. 
  • For more stories, go to BusinessInsider.co.za. 

Cellular network giant MTN has two weeks to remove misleading claims that its sky packages have “unlimited” voice minutes which really only amounts to 3,600 minutes a month, South Africa’s advertising regulator ruled.

MTN advertised its sky packages at a discount during Black Friday in November, and claimed that it had unlimited voice calling minutes for subscribers, followed by an asterisk. 

The asterisk at the bottom of the advertisement, however, read that it is unlimited subject to a “fair use policy”. It later emerged that “fair use” meant 3,600 minutes a month, or roughly a two-hour phone call a day. 

The Black Friday advertisement the regulator made
The Black Friday advertisement the regulator made a ruling against. (supplied)

The 'unlimited' claim was still live on MTN's website on Monday morning

The Advertising Regulatory Board (ARB) found that while few people would go over 3,600 minutes a month, most “reasonable” people would expect “unlimited” to not limit them to a two-hour phone call a day. 

“To say that there are ‘unlimited’ minutes and then clarify that the minutes are limited to 3600 is like saying that an item is free, except that you have to pay for some of it,” the ARB said in its ruling. “It is two contradictory statements and is therefore inherently misleading.”

In a similar ruling against Telkom Mobile in 2016, the ARB predecessor the Advertising Standards Authority of South Africa ruled that it is generally accepted that unlimited means no limitation. 

The ARB said unlike industry terms such as ‘uncapped’ which has a very specific meaning, ‘unlimited’ is “an ordinary word with an absolutely clear meaning.” 

“The fact that other players are also misusing the word is of concern to the Directorate, but does not change the fact that it is misleading to consumers,” the ARB said. 

It said while it is common to use an asterisk to expand or clarify an offer, one cannot use it to “correct a misleading impression already created in the advertising”.