The Advertising Regulatory Board (ARB) has found that MTN’s ambiguous in-app offers misled customers regarding the duration of its one-day data bundles.

The complainant, Christo Boshoff, brought the issue to the ARB, stating that the mobile operator offers one-day bundles within its app with no clear indication of when they expire.

Boshoff purchased a 2.5GB one-day bundle expecting it to last 24 hours. However, the data allocation expired at 00:01 — around 11 hours after he had purchased it.

“Yesterday I bought a 2.5GB data bundle valid for 1 day (this is per the app),” Boshoff wrote in his submission to the ARB.

“I purchased it at around 12:51 pm yesterday. I did not use all the data so I expected the remaining data to be valid until 12:50 pm the following day, as 1 Day = 24hrs.”

“However, this morning the data had disappeared. I then contacted MTN to complain and they told me that the data is only valid for the date you purchased it on, not for 24hrs as advertised,” he added.

Boshoff explained that MTN’s weekly bundles work the way he expected daily products to work, with the data allocation expiring at midnight on the seventh day.

Before making a decision, the ARB’s ruling says it allowed MTN opportunity to respond, but the mobile operator failed to do so.

The ARB presented two possible scenarios for what a customer who purchases a one-day bundle would expect:

  • That the bundle will expire at midnight, or
  • That the bundle will expire after 24 hours.

“The Directorate is of the opinion that either interpretation is reasonably possible — some consumers might understand that the time will expire at midnight, and others might understand it to last 24 hours from purchase,” it said.

It added that while the customers who expect it to be valid for 24 hours are technically wrong, the expectation is not unreasonable.

“In other words, the advertising is ambiguous,” it said.

The ARB noted that the response Boshoff received from MTN’s support states that a day ends at midnight, irrespective of when the data bundle is purchased.

“A day, then, could be as short as a few minutes if data is only purchased at 11:45 pm,” it said.

It added that MTN makes no effort to clarify the ambiguity and ruled that its wording is ambiguous and misleading.

“The Directorate, therefore, concludes that the claims made by the Advertiser in its in-app offers are ambiguous and therefore misleading and in breach of Clause 4.2.1 of Section II of the Code,” the ARB said.

Clause 4.2.1 of Section II of the Code of Advertising Practice specifies that advertisements shouldn’t feature “any statement or visual which, directly or by implication, omission, ambiguity, inaccuracy, exaggerated claim or otherwise, is likely to mislead the consumer”.

MTN’s executive for corporate affairs, Jacqui O’Sullivan said that the operator had noted the ARB’s ruling.

“MTN has noted the Advertising Regulatory Board ruling regarding the complaints brought forward by Mr Christo Boshoff,” she said.

“MTN will amend its advertising to include clarity on the validity period of our bundles.”

Notably, other major mobile network operators in South Africa either specify that their daily bundles expire at midnight or don’t offer one-day bundles altogether.

One-day data allocations purchased through Vodacom are termed “Until Midnight” bundles.

Cell C uses a similar approach, naming its one-day data products “Till Midnight” bundles.

On the other hand, Telkom doesn’t offer daily bundles. Its time-based bundles include weekend and weekly data allocations.