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Is AT&T GoPhone falsely advertising?

We’ve gotten a number of emails over the past few weeks asking why our AT&T GoPhone review doesn’t mention that they now have unlimited talk and unlimited text. At first, these emails were confusing. Since when did AT&T go the way of Cricket, MetroPCS, and Boost Unlimited? We browsed around AT&T’s GoPhone page, but found nothing of the sort.

But then, during a rare occasion where I was watching TV, I saw an AT&T GoPhone ad — incidentally, starring Norm MacDonald and Steve Buscemi — where they advertised unlimited talk and unlimited text. This threw me for a loop for a moment. Watch the commercial yourself and see what you think:

Seems pretty straightforward, right? Unlimited talk and unlimited text. This would make it seems as though you could play a flat rate per month to get these features. So we went back to the GoPhone page again, but again I found nothing to indicate that there was an option for flat-rate, unlimited calling.

Of course, there had been a reservation in the back of my mind since first watching the commercial, so I watched it again. And sure enough, there it was, in the small, harder to read print at the bottom of the screen:

It’s tough to read there, but it says: “Unlimited talk to 65 million wireless AT&T customers”. So this is, in fact, nothing new — AT&T introduced this unlimited mobile to mobile plan earlier this year. The question: How did they manage to get away with such blatantly misleading advertising?

Highlight and suppress

When you say “unlimited” without further qualifying it, people are going to take it as just that. Case in point: Verizon’s unlimited data plan. It wasn’t truly unlimited — there was a 5 GB cap. While that might be more than enough for some people, for others it wasn’t close to what they needed. Because of this, Verizon had to pay out $1 million to customers it had wronged.

The strategy employed by both Verizon and AT&T was to highlight the attractive part of the deal — the unlimited part — and to suppress the limitations. The only difference is that AT&T took the care to add a teeny-weeny caveat at the bottom of their advertisement, whereas Verizon completely forwent any kind of notice on the data plan’s limit. We’re really wondering why this is allowed.

If you’re going to sell something as “unlimited,” there had damn well be no limitations on that service. In both cases, there clearly are. They’re using an attractive feature to reel in customers, when that attractive feature isn’t completely true — it’s a complete technicality that they’re using to their marketing advantate. Say what you will about the rights of companies and whatnot, but this is completely and utterly wrong of them.

A dollar a day

The worst part about these GoPhone advertisements is that they make absolutely no mention of the actual terms of the unlimited mobile to mobile. I’m talking about the $1 per day access fee. Without it, you’re paying 25 cents per minute, and don’t have unlimited calling of any kind.

That is nowhere to be found in the commercial. The fine print at the bottom of the screenshot there mentions nothing about an access fee. Problem is, it’s kind of important — essential, even. Yes, you only pay it on days you use the phone, but it’s still a charge, and they’re being everything but upfront about it.

Truth in advertising

Imagine seeing this commercial for the first time. “Wow,” you think, “if AT&T has prepaid unlimited calling, I’m totally in!” So you head down to your local AT&T retailer and speak to a representative about the unlimited options of GoPhone.

Now imagine how disappointed you’d be to find out that their supposed “unlimited” calling doesn’t at all apply to your friends and relatives with Sprint and Verizon. Imagine further your disappointment to find out that there is a $1 per day access fee.

There has to be some accountability here. Advertising, by nature, is manipulative. That should be understood. However, there’s a difference between manipulation and deception. AT&T knows that few, if any, people read the fine print on the bottom of the screen. So all that’s getting through to consumers is “unlimited talk and unlimited text.” Thus, they think they’re going to get just that deal when they walk into an AT&T store.

Of course, when you get there the sales rep will try to sell you on the virtues of the unlimited mobile to mobile. And honestly, it’s not a terrible deal. If you can avoid using your phone a couple days a month, you can get away with $28 or so per month in access fees, plus 10 cents per minute, which in the prepaid world isn’t bad at all — especially because you’re only using the minutes you pay for.

Keep this in mind for other prepaid commercials you see. If they’re advertising something that seems out of this world, hit up our featured reviews or go to the company’s website. Make sure that what they’re advertising is what they’ll deliver. Otherwise, you might be in for a huge disappointment.