BBB National Programs Archive

ERSP Recommends Universal Commerce Modify Advertising for ‘Senior Mobile’ Cell Phone to Better Disclose Activation Fee

New York, NY – Nov. 17, 2014 – The Electronic Retailing Self-Regulation Program (ERSP) has recommended that Universal Commerce modify certain advertising claims for Senior Mobile, a cell phone designed for seniors, to better disclose that the free phone carries a $97 activation fee.

ERSP is an investigative unit of the advertising industry’s system of self-regulation and is administered by the Council of Better Business Bureaus. The marketer’s advertising came to the attention of ERSP pursuant to its ongoing monitoring program.

ERSP reviewed print advertising claims for Senior Mobile, including:

• “Public set to get easy to use cell phones free”
• “New cell phones aimed at keeping Texas residents safe are being given away free to everyone who beats the 48 hour deadline to cover just the one-time activation fee, but only those Texas area residents who call are also getting nationwide coverage with no long distance charges, no contracts, no deposits and no monthly bills”
• “The only thing residents need to do is call the Toll Free Hotline before the 48-hour order deadline ends to cover just a one-time activation fee to instantly be awarded the new SeniorMobile cell phone for free.”
• “U.S. Gov’t urges citizens to carry cell phones”

Senior Mobile is a cell phone designed for seniors that includes an “E” button, a preprogrammed button which allows consumers to make a one-touch call to an emergency dispatch center, instead of dialing 9-1-1.

ERSP determined that the marketer provided a reasonable basis for its position that the advertising has been appropriately identified as a paid advertisement.

The “free” offer for Senior Mobile is reinforced several times in the advertisement. While ERSP did not dispute that the cell phone itself is free, it found that the $97 activation fee was a material condition of the offer. As such, ERSP recommended Universal Commerce clearly and conspicuously disclose material information about the activation and shipping costs in the context of the advertising at issue as it pertains to the “free” offer.

The company, in its marketer’s statement, said, “Universal Commerce, LLC, which is committed to ensuring that its advertising is truthful, accurate, and substantiated, appreciates the opportunity to participate in the Electronic Retailing Self-Regulation Program self-regulatory process … While we disagree with ERSP’s conclusion that the multiple disclosures in the advertisement that consumers must pay air $97 activation fee to obtain the phone are not sufficiently clear and conspicuous, Universal Commerce will take ERSP’s suggestions into consideration in its future advertisements.”