The company behind the Crazy Frog ringtone craze has been rapped by a watchdog after parents complained that children were being tricked into running up huge bills.
The Advertising Standards Authority has ruled that the Jamster! Club ads – offering ringtones, screensavers and games for mobile phones – can’t be shown before the 9pm watershed.
The complaints centred on commercials featuring the Crazy Frog, or other animated characters, Nessie the Dragon and Sweetie the Chick.
Eighty viewers said the ads had not clearly explained that it was a subscription service, while 244 viewers complained the ads were aimed at children. A further 33 parents said their children had downloaded the ringtones and were then saddled with large phone bills.
Some ads seen only by children
But Jamster – which is appealing the ASA ruling – strongly denied targeting youngsters and told the ASA its services were aimed at 18- to 49-year-olds. However, the ASA discovered that on some channels the audience was entirely children.
Jamster said it believed the complaints were from people annoyed at both the Crazy Frog character and the number of ads on TV, with over 40,000 TV spots in May alone. But the ASA said there were legitimate concerns about the influence of the ads on children.
It added that the frequency of the ads, peer pressure, merchandising such as children’s T shirts and the Crazy Frog hit single, as well as the ease of being able to subscribe by text, all added to the problem.
The watchdog concluded that although the ads ‘might not have been aimed at children, they were none the less of strong appeal to them and the product was clearly of interest to them.’
Which? Senior Researcher Ceri Stanaway said:’The 9pm watershed will undoubtedly help but time will tell whether it acts as a sufficient check on children signing up to these ringtone clubs by mistake. Eight-year-olds aren’t sophisticated enough to understand the financial implications of joining a ringtone club.’
Jamster said all the ads in question were no longer being broadcast and all future ads would comply with the code of the premium-rate regulator Icstis.
Icstis, which, unlike the ASA can fine companies, is also set to rule on previous Jamster ads within the next few months. It recently began to scrutinise the company’s ringtone ads and says it isn’t aware of any problems with current versions.