Debonairs’ ‘free delivery’ promise lays it on too thick, says ad watchdog

A Debonairs delivery rider in one of its TV commercials.
A Debonairs delivery rider in one of its TV commercials.
Image: YouTube

“Free delivery” sounds simple, but by the time a panel of advertising experts had sliced up a pizza giant's offer, it concluded: “The reality seems to be the opposite.”

Members of the Advertising Regulatory Board directorate pored over the Debonairs Pizza menu and concluded any pizzas that tempted them would come with a topping of bewilderment.

“Having read the terms and conditions, and having looked at where the nearest restaurant is, and then checking against the online delivery offerings, members of the directorate are still left confused as to whether they would qualify for free delivery or not, and why,” they said.

The panel's efforts were sparked by a complaint from Lupumzo Madikazi about a Debonairs TV ad with the claim “free delivery” on the screen and “we deliver mahala” in the voice-over.

Madikazi said the ad was misleading because when he places an order, he is charged for delivery.

Debonairs' ad agency, FCB Joburg, said free delivery had been part of the company's promise since 1991, and always came with the rider “terms and conditions apply”.

These were explained on the company's website and menu, which said: “Free delivery conditions apply: minimum order of R79.80 is required to qualify for delivery. Free delivery applies to predetermined areas around each Debonairs Pizza restaurant.

“Please check online or ask your nearest Debonairs Pizza restaurant if you fall within their specified free delivery area. Debonairs Pizza reserves the right to charge a delivery fee for areas further than a 3km drive distance (with the exception of orders above R250).

“Debonairs Pizza furthermore reserves the right to not offer delivery to certain areas for distance, security and/or safety reasons. Orders that are placed on a third-party aggregator platform and delivered by a third-party delivery service provider do not qualify for free delivery.”

The ad watchdog said a misleading headline could not be cleared up with explanations that appear elsewhere, or with terms and conditions.

“The question ... is therefore whether the initial claim that delivery is 'mahala' or 'free' is misleading,” it said.

“The 'free delivery' message is not an aside to the main commercial but rather a major part of what the commercial is attempting to promote; the unique selling point, if you will.

“The directorate also considers a 3km radius to be a particularly small delivery area these days ... [and] 'within 3km' or 'within limited areas' is not a particularly onerous disclaimer to include on-screen.”

“Taking the commercial as a whole ... the overwhelming communication is that 'free delivery' is widely available with some exceptions.

“The reality seems to be the opposite — that free delivery is available within certain very limited areas.”

The watchdog told Debonairs to remove or amend the ad.


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