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ASA UK Ban Virgin Media TV Advert for Misleading Broadband Buffering Claim

Posted Wednesday, October 3rd, 2012 (7:25 am) by Mark Jackson (Score 763)
uk advertising standards authority

The UK Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) has once more raked Virgin Media over the coals after a TV advert for the service, which featured Dr Who actor David Tennant, misleadingly implied for a second time that customers who joined their super-fast broadband ISP could “say goodbye to buffering” on internet video streams.

Buffering is the name given to those annoying pauses in online video streams, which often occur as the stream attempts to compensate for slow broadband connectivity but can also result from any number of other factors (e.g. bad internet routing, a slow web server etc.). Funnily enough both Virgin Media and the adverts producer, Clearcast, agree.

Virgin Media saw an almost identical complaint in July 2012 being upheld but still doesn’t appear to have learnt their lesson (here). Clearcast suggested that its latest promotion made no promise that buffering would no longer be experienced because of the inclusion of the word “could” in the line “You could say bye-bye to buffering with superfast fibre-optic broadband“.

ASA Assessment (REF: A12-201412)

We considered that the claim “Now from Virgin Media, you could say goodbye to buffering with superfast fibre-optic broadband” could be understood in the intended way but, because it was unclear to which element of the statement the conditional “could” applied, it could equally be understood by viewers to mean that consumers would eliminate buffering if they signed up to the Virgin Media broadband service.

We considered this was exacerbated by the images in the ad of David Tennant destroying the “buffering” symbol, which would be understood by viewers as a visual representation of the complete removal of buffering. Because of the ambiguity of the way in which the claim was presented, we concluded that the ad was misleading.

The ASA banned the advert in its current form for breaching BCAP Code rules 3.1 (Misleading advertising), 3.9 (Substantiation) and 3.12 (Exaggeration). Regular readers will note that Virgin Media has now become an almost regular fixture in the ASA’s weekly round-up of advertising complaints, which is unsurprising as they have no real teeth to penalise repeat offenders.

Still we do rather like the excuse given by Clearcast for “could”, which could be used almost everywhere. Just imagine buying a new car to be told that you “could drive it on the road” only to find that the vehicle didn’t have a working engine. But you COULD still drive it on the road, provided somebody strong enough was there to do the pushing.

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7 Responses
  1. What the ASA really want to sort out is the ‘fibre broadband’ weasel words. It isn’t fibre broadband unless its fibre to the home. Both virgin and bt are misleading the public. All exchanges (bar the odd one) are fibre fed. So dial up is fibre fed. The fact that fibre goes a short distance to a cabinet doesn’t make much difference, its still copper to the home.

    • FibreFred

      Its not really a short distance though is it Chris

      The distance to my cabinet is about 500metres, the distance from the cabinet to the exchange is over 3,000 metres, so… which of the two is the short distance, the cabinet to the exchange?

      I totally understand what you are saying about the fibre marketing but I fear that horse has bolted. Virgin got away with then BT and now Sky etc. I fear its too late.

      I don’t really think your average joe cares whether its partial or all fibre, they’ll be looking at the speed and other factors not physical material.

  2. Indeed you could say the same thing about the first “4G” services, which the ITU would still classify under 3G as only future LTE-Advanced or WiMAX2 based technologies have been officially recognised as having true 4G capabilities.

    In reality though marketing does need some flexibility or you’d simply get too many complaints to handle, which is partly why “fibre” is allowed to be abused.

  3. dragoneast

    Does any average joe take literally the promises of advertisers let alone the government/politicians? At best they’re statements of intent, and like all our good intentions honoured more in the breach. Easy canon fodder for the media herds, of course; but I can’t help thinking we’d all be better employed on real jobs.

  4. DTMark

    When watching videos online (e.g YouTube) I used to get an ad come up that said “Stream like a dream with BT Total Broadband”. Yet, if I had that, I would probably not be able to actually watch said streaming video at all 😉

    The one that gets me most is the “8x faster than standard broadband” tag line. Standard broadband, where my parents live, is Virgin Media cable. There isn’t anything else, though some BT lines might manage 256kbps.

    Yet, if they had BT Infinity, it would not run at 240Mbps or 480Mbps. “Standard broadband?!”

  5. Jason

    My 100mb VirginMedia connection used to be great, but the last 4 months has been dreadful. I get between 1mb (yes really!) and 35mb at peak times. Latency is all over the place, sometimes up to 450ms on the first hop of a traceroute to bbc.co.uk!!
    I have complained and they have admitted there is a massive congestion problem and have given me a big discount on my monthly bill. But gaming is IMPOSSIBLE now for months due to incredible latency and lag spikes and so I am moving ISP.

    • Darren

      The harsh reality of what you inevitably have to put up with on Virgin Media. No wonder they have to break advertising rules to try and gain customers.

      Do you have FTTC available to you Jason? I’d love to hear how you get on with that if you do.

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