Word-play means you still pay call-out engineer

I already know I'm going to hell - I spent years as a commercial copywriter. That's a one-way ticket in the wrong direction when I leave this slightly bloated vessel. It does have its advantages though; I can spot bullshit a mile off, because I've penned plenty of it myself in return for money. Yes, I was once an advertising whore.

So I'm well aware of the thought and due consideration that'll have been given to a Yellow Pages advert for South Thames Gas, an advert banned by the Advertising Standards Agency (ASA) for misleading customers and being untruthful. The company was advertising an emergency call-out service that stated:


Anybody reading it would probably assume they could call an engineer from South Thames Gas, who'd pop round and see what the problem with the boiler was, before telling them what was broken and how much it'd cost to fix. Except the wording is very specific; "no call-out charge to your door" means you won't be charged for the engineer to drive to your house. If you'd like the engineer to come into your house and check what the problem actually is, which is of course the only reason you'd ever call, then you'd be charged a "fault-finding fee".

Obviously if there wasn't any sort of charge before work was carried out, the ad would simply read "no call-out charge"; the fact that it doesn't suggests someone thought the ad might be considered misleading without the additional wording, and a change was made. They needn't have bothered; Trading Standards thought the ad was plain wrong, and so did the ASA:

The ASA considered that readers would understand "NO CALL OUT CHARGE" to mean that they would be charged a fee only if repair work was carried out, not that there would be a charge for diagnosing the problem.  We considered that, although the ad stated "TO YOUR DOOR", the overriding impression consumers would have is that they would only be charged for repair work. Because STG charged a fault finding or diagnostic fee, we considered that the ad was misleading. We welcomed STG's offer to remove the claim.

The ASA ruled the ad could no longer appear as worded; regardless of the slapped wrist concerning their press ad, a quick visit to the South Thames Gas website finds this:

Seems somebody's written the important caveat in smaller lettering to make it less noticeable. Designers are going to hell too, then. Christ, it's going to get cramped down there once the current Labour Party and marketing execs arrive.


  • Abbi
    I'm surprised they didn't argue that they weren't going to be charging Your Door, therefore it was technically correct. No wonder she's laughing. So, if I get this correct, one could phone them, call them out, ask the engineer (at your door) for a light, blow smoke in his face and shut the door. All without charge. I suppose there are enough bored at home unemployed people right now for someone to consider it.
  • gravy
    So let me get this straight....... I can call them out, leave them at my front door, and not pay them a bean? Sounds like a good plan to me :)
  • gravy
    Great minds Abbi (the phone went mid typing)
  • andy y.
    Wish I lived in the catchment.I'd call these fuckers out to my door 7 days a week.
  • mad g.
    LOL excellent, i wonder if you can call them and ask the guy the time before slamming the door shut
  • N E.
    I salute you Abbi and gravy! and Andy I would do exactly the same! What f******* tw**s,. Looks like their engineers aren't too bothered either since they would have complained about it too.,,, might ask a friend to ring them and blatantly tell them to diagnose the problem from the door step, around the living room, through the double doors and into the kitchen. I'd give them a diagnosis fee for that. :D
  • Pizza_D_action
    Didn't see that one coming, I too thought that they would not be charging my door for the call-out charge and would be charging me instead.... what a crazy thought :D
  • billyoftheknight
    Not that I'm that way inclined... What if I let them in the back door??
  • Martin
    Note also that they do not do free estimates for repair work. They will charge you for that to. Free estimates are only for installations.
  • Travellers
    Looks like an opportunity for free fault diagnosis to me! Call them out, listen to the engineers advice, and politely tell him to roger himself with a truncheon when he gives you a bill. Should the gas.co. be daft enough to issue a small claims action for the unpaid bill, refer them to the ad shown above (which prompted you to call them) and the ASA judgement (that you didn't see until aferwards :)

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