In response to customer complaints, Qatar is rolling out a new advertising code that makes it harder for telecommunications providers here to use “misleading and unfair” marketing methods.
The Advertising Code has been issued by the recently-established Communications Regulatory Authority (CRA).
The CRA is an independent regulatory arm of the Ministry of Information and Communications Technology (ictQatar) dedicated to telecoms, access to digital media and the postal service.
The new 24-page code complements and beefs up a Consumer Protection Policy that was rolled out earlier this year to help consumers navigate internet and mobile services here, and hold providers more accountable for their offerings.
Previously, the ministry was involved in monitoring promotions and prices set by the companies, but the CRA took over the role of watchdog when it was established in April under Emiri Decree No. 42 of 2014.
According to regulations, Ooredoo, as the incumbent, must seek approval before launching a new campaign, while Vodafone is subject to regulation after offering its promotions.
The new code aims to ensure that all advertising and marketing undertaken by telecoms providers is “fair, accurate and truthful” and is not confusing to customers.
The new regulations follow an incident earlier this year when Ooredoo was censured by ictQatar, which demanded the provider immediately stop all advertising for its “4G For Free Forever” campaign.
At the time, the government body said “the advertisement is in fact misleading and it creates the perception that the 4G service and data are for free.”
Ooredoo responded that there had been no customer complaints over the campaign and publicly questioned ictQatar’s methods and role as regulator.
However, the CRA’s mandate will involve service packages and plans, and not problems regarding phone hardware.
For example, there have been several customers complaints about the new iPhone 6, which both telecom companies began selling over the weekend.
Some residents have said that despite promises made by Vodafone, they still have not received the phones they ordered.
— iCandy (@iCandy_pw) September 27, 2014
— Hassan Al-Sheeb (@HAlsheeb) September 29, 2014
This issue should be directed to the Ministry of Economy and Commerce’s Consumer Protection Department, CRA told Doha News.
The code, which has already been through two drafts and a consultation process with telecoms providers, states that companies must not market or advertise their services and products in a way which, directly or indirectly, gives false or misleading information to their customers.
It warns that marketing to customers – including calls, texts and emails – must not be intrusive, must have limited daily contact and should take place at a time suitable to the customer. Customers should be able to opt-out of such contact if they wish.
Privacy of customer should be protected at all times, and vulnerable customers, especially children and those with special needs, are also given additional protection.
For example, the code states that any advertising of ring tone downloads to children must include a comment reminding children they should seek prior permission from an adult.
Advertisers must also:
- Be honest and truthful in their dealings with Consumers, and be factually correct and culturally sensitive;
- Clearly disclose to the consumers all terms and conditions and appropriate information before the point of sale; and
- Not take advantage of a consumer’s lack of experience or knowledge.
The code also covers pricing, one of the most common sources of customer complaints.
It requires providers to clearly and honestly give a breakdown of all pricing and to respond to requests for additional information on a product or service within 10 working days.
It bans providers from engaging in negative “ad wars” with rivals, saying all advertisers should respect their competitors. Differences in product or service can be highlighted, but this should not discredit or unfairly criticize another company.
And for special offers, it states:
“An advertiser must not claim, in any advertisements, that an applicable product or service is on special offer, available free of charge, or available on any other preferential terms and conditions, unless it is true and based on facts which can be substantiated. “
It goes on to detail the use of words such as “free” and “unlimited” and rules on how companies can honestly advertise the speed of their services.