Credit or debit? UK’s ASA finds PayPal ad about trainers’ purchase is irresponsible

Maria Nikolova

UK’s ASA tells PayPal not to portray the decision to use credit in an irresponsible way.

A PayPal advertisement about trainers’ purchase that involved switching between payment options has been found irresponsible by the UK Advertising Standards Authority (ASA). In a ruling published earlier today, the advertising body upheld a complaint against a TV ad for the PayPal Account service.

The ad, seen in September 2018, featured three people getting ready to go out. One man got a notification on his phone showing he was in an online queue to buy trainers and sat back down as his friend looked annoyed. A woman and a man’s voices said, “No!”; “Drop everything”; “The biggest club night of the year and you’re “; “112th in the queue”; “A shoe queue? I’ve seen it all now”; “200 quid?”.; “Chill out, dude”. A voiceover said, “Paypal lets you choose between credit and debit at checkout. Perfect when you need that extra bit for those …”. The man was shown opening a shoebox with a look of wonder on his face. His friend asked “Are you ever gonna wear those things?” The man shook his head. The voice-over continued “… you know, essential purchases.”

The ASA acknowledged that the ad did not advertise a specific credit product. However, the body considered that the ad had the effect of promoting credit as a payment option more generally, as opposed to debit. The ASA noted that the fact that the man had signed up to receive alerts about the trainers and then waited in a lengthy queue to buy them suggested that his interest in the product was not impulsive. However, when he reached the checkout stage, his facial expression and the tone of his voice when he said “200 quid?” indicated that he was shocked at the price and conflicted about whether to spend that amount of money. A female voice said “Chill out, dude”, and then the voice-over stated “Paypal lets you choose between credit and debit at checkout”, as the main character was shown opting to pay with credit.

Overall, the body considered that viewers were likely to understand from the ad that the character was aware he could not afford the product outright, but decided impulsively to spend a relatively large amount of money on a pair of trainers as he had the option to defer the payment until later. The ASA did not consider that showing a customer purchasing a product that many would regard as non-essential using a credit card was inherently irresponsible. However, viewers were likely to interpret from the context of the ad that the main character had not given sufficient consideration to the consequences of that decision, regardless of whether or not he was likely to be able to keep up with card payments.

While the body understood that humorous intent behind the moment when the voice-over stated, “Perfect when you need that extra bit for those … you know, essential purchases” and the man shook his head when asked if he actually intended to wear the shoes, the ASA considered that the tone of the ad served to make light of the main character’s decision to purchase an expensive, non-essential product that consumers were likely to understand he was uncertain if he could afford, by using credit. Overall, given the way in which the character’s decision was presented, the body considered that the ad trivialised using credit to make a purchase.

The ASA concluded that the ad was irresponsible and breached the Code with regard to social responsibility.

The body ruled that the ad must not appear again in the forms complained about. The ASA told Paypal (Europe) Sarl et Cie not to portray the decision to use credit in an irresponsible way.

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