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

Wednesday, Oct 3rd, 2012 (7:25 am) - Score 853

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.

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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