Vodacom keeps changing the reason it claims to be SA’s best network – and an advertising regulator is getting tired of its games

Business Insider SA
Vodacom is SA's best network – but read the fine p
  • Vodacom went from claiming to have been SA's best cellphone network for three years running to just claiming it is the best.
  • Either way, MTN complained, Vodacom needs to admit it isn't really the best objectively, just the best in some surveys.
  • An appeals committee of South Africa's advertising regulator agrees – and is getting more than a little miffed at Vodacom for the claim. 
  • For more, go to Business Insider South Africa.

Vodacom is still breaking advertising rules by claiming to be "SA's best network", the appeals committee of the Advertising Regulatory Board (ARB) says – and it is not covering itself in glory by doing so.

In a scathing ruling dated 1 May but published this week, appeals chair Judge Bernard Ngoepe said Vodacom created new advertising with the misleading claim after it had lost a fight with MTN, and sought to justify those ads "with all sorts of new disclaimers".

Had the original ruling against Vodacom been a court order rather than a finding of a self-regulatory board the depends on advertisers to comply, Ngoepe wrote, "Vodacom would have been in real peril of being convicted of contempt of court."

See also: Vodacom backtracks after outrage: It will now roll over data for free

MTN has been fighting Vodacom's claim of being the best network for years, with increasing success. MTN brought the latest complaint in early April.

Under the rules of the ARB, Vodacom must now withdraw the offending advertising.

Vodacom originally claimed to be South Africa's best network based on objective technical tests by third parties which had found its network to be superior. In 2018, however, those tests favoured MTN instead, and MTN soon claimed the title as best network, using those same test results.

MTN best network

Instead of accepting defeat, however, Vodacom claimed the basis of its claim from the objective tests to a subjective customer satisfaction survey, the South African Customer Satisfaction Index (SAcsi).

SAcsi does not measure network performance, but instead asks people how they feel about different brands.

This, MTN complained to the ARB, was fine and well – but it demanded that Vodacom's advertisements make it clear that it was "best" in people's minds, rather than in actual tests.

Vodacom has since changed the basis for its claim again, now saying it is the best network because it had been rated such in the Sunday Times Top Brands Awards 2018.

Even that disclaimer could be hard to find, though. In some ads Vodacom has not disclaimer about its claim, just an asterisk.

Vodacom best network claim

If you are keen to find out what the asterisk means, some of the ads direct you to the front page of its website. Very near the bottom of that page is a link to a "terms and conditions" page which, as of Thursday contained links to around a hundred different sets of terms-and-conditions documents.

The disclaimer relevant to its network claims, named the "bold network claims’ disclaimers", is not currently linked among those documents, though it is on the Vodacom website.

"To show that our claims are substantiated with real facts and figures, here’s a list of claims and the independent research which supports them," it promises – with a list consisting of one item.

Vodacom dislcaimer

The ARB final appeals committee ordered Vodacom to pay the cost of MTN's complaint – and warned that self-regulatory systems only work when those involved actually comply with rulings.

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