Orange accuses Cellnet of misleading ads

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The Independent Online
MARY FAGAN

Industrial Correspondent

The telecommunications company Orange has complained to the Advertising Standards Authority over alleged "misleading" advertisements by Cellnet.

The advertisements, which have been placed in national newspapers in the approach to Orange's stock-market debut today, promote Cellnet as being cheaper than its fledgling rival.

One of the advertisements boasts that Cellnet is "The net that sets you free" while labelling Orange "The net that sets you back". Another states: "To save Orange a bit of money we have published our prices next to theirs."

Orange believes that Cellnet is not comparing like with like and in some cases sets the cost of offpeak use on the Cellnet system against a mixture of offpeak and peak usage on Orange. The company also feels that the advertisements ignore the overall value of its tariff packages, some of which include extras such as 12 months free insurance.

Orange declined to comment on the attack by the larger operator and would not confirm the complaint to the ASA. However, industry sources said that the company is aggrieved at the "selective" nature of the advertisements and the timing of their appearance. There is also a view that the plethora of different pricing arrangements from all the mobile operators makes it impossible to make fair comparisons. Orange has always argued that it does not sell on price alone and never will.

Both Cellnet and Vodaphone regard the fledgling Orange as a serious player in spite of their own dominance. Vodafone's total subscriber base is approaching 2.5bn with Cellnet not far behind. At the end of February, Orange had 440,000 customers and has been taking on about 30,000 per month.

A casting session for a new advertising campaign by telephone company Mercury has been called off after promotional leaflets said only white children could take part.

The leaflets, put up in swimming pools around south London, specified that babies auditioning for the part of Claire in the Oliver and Claire adverts should be "cute, white and love the water".

Baby Claire is currently featured in a series of cartoon-style newspaper ads and Mercury is planning a TV campaign later this year.

A Mercury Communications spokesman said today: "We were very unhappy with the wording of the leaflets and the way that the casting was handled. [The leaflets] were drawn up by someone a few steps along the line from our advertising agency and did not follow our brief ... Their reasoning was explained in the leaflet, but obviously we were very unhappy when we heard about it, immediately ordered the leaflets to be taken down and cancelled last Thursday's casting session at Crystal Palace sports centre.

"We never intended to cause any offence or discrimination. I think whoever drew up the leaflet was acting in good faith but was rather thoughtless.

"The issue of whether to have a casting session is under review."

Orange squeezes Vodaphone, page 21

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