THE UK ADVERTISING STANDARDS AUTHORITY (ASA) has scolded internet service provider (ISP) Virgin Media over a misleading broadband ad, which it said it cannot use again.
The ad, which included a banner displayed on a number of web sites and a web site called Stop the Broadband Con, appeared in December of last year. It berated rival ISPs over their allegedly misleading advertising practices, yet committed several of its own.
Both Sky and British Telecom (BT) challenged the ad, which they said was derogatory towards them and insinuated that they dealt with their customers in a dishonest fashion, as well as being highly misleading about a number of claims made by Virgin Media. They raised eight points of objection to the ad, all of which were upheld by the ASA.
The first centred on the denigratory attitude towards rivals. The ASA found that language like "support the campaign for broadband honesty", "you deserve the truth" and "stop the broadband con" unfairly maligned competitors.
The second focused on the Virgin Media claim that ADSL subscribers are getting lower speeds than what they pay for, which Sky and BT said was misleading, as they were committed to explaining ADSL speeds up front to their customers at the point of sale. The ASA found that the Virgin Media claim was misleading because it suggested that only Virgin Media supplied internet speed information to customers.
The third objection was the claim that "faster broadband means better broadband, whether you're surfing the web [or] watching TV online", which Sky and BT said was not true, as there is sometimes not a perceivable benefit to web surfing or video streaming from faster broadband speeds. The ASA agreed.
The fourth and fifth issues addressed Virgin Media's claim that Ofcom found its broadband to be twice as fast as that of other ISPs. BT claimed that this was misleading, as the Ofcom report did not factor in its Infinity service, while Sky said it did not take into account Virgin Media's traffic management policies, which could significantly slow broadband speeds. The ASA agreed on both counts.
The sixth complaint was the suggestion by Virgin Media that an average speed of 6.5Mbits/s would lead to delays in internet usage. Sky claimed that this was an exaggeration, as users with that download speed would generally not incur delays. The ASA said there was no evidence to suggest there would be such delays and that the claim was therefore misleading.
The seventh contention opposed Virgin Media's suggestion that all of its customers received around 90 per cent of its advertised speed, which both Sky and the ASA found misleading. The Virgin Media claim only applied to average speeds, not the top end speeds that were advertised, but its wording suggested otherwise.
The eighth and final issue was the claim by Virgin Media that it doesn't use "old-fashioned telephone lines", which Sky alleged was untrue, as it did use them for its ADSL network. The ASA said Virgin Media's claim only applied to its cable broadband service but the language suggested it was universal and was therefore misleading.
The ASA found that the ad breached the Committee of Advertising Practice (CAP) Code on several accounts related to misleading customers, exaggeration of claims, lack of susbstantiation of claims and denigration of competitors. It banned Virgin Media from using the ad again in its current form and told it to refrain from discrediting its rivals and to make its comparative claims more clear in the future.
The irony of the situation is that Vigin Media's ad urged the ASA to "put a stop to misleading broadband advertising once and for all". We guess Virgin Media got its wish then. µ