New consumer act aims to protect against shady marketing

By Staff Writer

A new era of consumer rights dawned in South Africa on 1 April, when the Consumer Protection Act came into force. This Act looks to strengthen your rights as a consumer by protecting you from unfair and unethical behaviour by the companies you interact with every day.

Perhaps one of the areas that will be most significantly affected by the Act is the way that companies market, advertises and sell their products to you. The Act looks to protect consumers from suppliers that make elevated or even fraudulent claims about their products and services in their advertising and marketing. No longer may advertisers use ambiguity, hyperbole or innuendo to mislead consumers.

The law will need to be tested in practice, but in practice it will probably protect you from outright deception in advertising while making room for some of the puffery you'd expect in an advertisement. For example, a telecom network might be able to claim that its Internet service is as fast as lightning, but won't get away with claiming that it delivers a connection speed of 10 Megabytes per second when that is the maximum speed that only a few people in the real world actually enjoy.

Perhaps one of the most important changes is the Act's emphasis on plain, understandable language in advertising, marketing and customer documents. Companies aren't allowed to use technical or legal jargon to mislead you any more - their documents should be understandable for their target market. This also applies to contracts that you sign - there should be no small print terms and conditions or clauses that you don't understand.

It is up to your supplier to explain the contract to you in a clear and honest manner. Companies will be obliged to deliver what they say they will once you have handed your money over to them. The practice of over-selling, for example, will be prohibited. Airlines will no longer get away with bumping you off your flight because they're overbooked - they will be required to refund the cost of your ticket with interest in cash, Vouchers will no longer do.

They may even have to refund you for a rugby or concert ticket if you prove you couldn't attend because you missed your flight due to being bumped from the passenger list. The Act demands a level of honesty and transparency from companies in their marketing and advertising that should give you more confidence in the products and services you use. It is worth reading the Act - itself written in plain and understandable language - to inform yourself of your new rights.

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