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ASA Ban Virgin Media TV and Website Ads Over Misleading Performance Claim

Wednesday, Jul 25th, 2012 (8:31 am) - Score 577

The UK Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) has, yet again, upheld complaints against two “misleading” TV and website adverts for Virgin Media’s superfast broadband packages. In particular BT successfully challenged Virgin’s claim that its service did not suffer from “buffering” on internet video streams.

Virgin Media seems to have little regard for the ASA as they appear to be cropping up in the groups adjudication lists almost every single week. This week we have two separate complaints, one from BT against a TV advert and another by a member of the public against Virgin’s own website.

In the first case BT challenged whether the TV adverts claim, which saw sporting star Usain Bolt say – “Hi I’m Richard Branson and I want everyone to say bye-bye to buffering and hello to a superfast broadband“, was fair because BT understood that some customers did still suffer from it. Virgin immediately accepted, “that there were numerous causes of buffering, some of which they, as the internet service provider, had no control over“; that must of made the ASA’s job very easy.

ASA Assessment (REF: A12-193801)

The ASA considered that the statement “I want everyone to say bye-bye to buffering and hello to a superfast broadband” would be interpreted by viewers as an objective claim that, by choosing the up to 30 Mb broadband service from Virgin, they would no longer experience buffering. Because we understood that users of the service might still experience buffering, we concluded that the claim was misleading.

Sadly that wasn’t the end of today’s problems. Another complainant quickly challenge a claim on the ISPs own website, which stated “Average download times with up to 60Mb broadband Album 9 secs TV show 54 secs Movie 2.5 mins HD movie 10 mins“. The complainant felt that this was misleading because the ISPs Traffic Management could potentially reduce the top speed of 60Mbps and thus affect the times.

ASA Assessment (REF: A12-194077)

We acknowledged that small print stated “… Traffic Management operates from 4pm to 9pm and 10am to 3pm to ensure a consistent user experience” and included a link to the full details of the traffic management policy. We considered, however, that was not sufficient to make clear that the traffic management policy meant users’ numerical maximum speeds might be restricted in such a way that they could not download the material in the average times listed if they breached the 5 GB download limit during peak hours and that the download limit could be breached by downloading more than one HD film. We considered that was a significant factor that affected the advertised service and that it therefore should have been made clear in the body copy of the ad.

Because Virgin Media had not provided sufficient evidence to support them and because they were not adequately qualified, we concluded that the duration of download claims were misleading.

As usual the ASA banned the adverts in their current form and warned Virgin Media not to state or imply that users of their broadband service would not experience buffering. It also told the ISP to ensure that they held “appropriate substantiation to support their future duration of download speed claims“.

The ASA then warned Virgin Media to ensure that significant factors that affected the achievability of similar speed claims, such as Traffic Management, were prominently explained in the body copy of future ads.

By Mark Jackson
Mark is a professional technology writer, IT consultant and computer engineer from Dorset (England), he also founded ISPreview in 1999 and enjoys analysing the latest telecoms and broadband developments. Find me on X (Twitter), Mastodon, Facebook and .
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