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BT and Sky Get Virgin Media UK Adverts Banned for “5x Faster” Claim

Wednesday, September 17th, 2014 (7:42 am) - Score 613
uk advertising standards authority

The Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) has banned a TV, website and several press adverts for Virgin Media’s cable broadband service after rival ISPs, BT and Sky Broadband (BSkyB), complained that the promotions “misled” consumers by claiming the service offered Internet download speeds that were “5x faster than Sky and BT’s regular broadband“.

The gripes by BT focused exclusively on Virgin Media’s TV promotion, which specifically claimed that customers would be able to “download five times faster than BT’s regular broadband“. Crucially the on-screen text in this promotion encouraged viewers to visit virginmedia.com/ourspeedsfor verification“. But BT said that the webpage in question did not provide sufficient information for viewers to verify the comparison that had been made.

Meanwhile both BT and Sky Broadband complained against several almost identical claims made in other ads. Both ISPs described the “5x faster than Sky and BT’s regular broadband” claim as “misleading“, albeit this time because they understood the statement to be an “absolute claim which implied that all Virgin Media customers would always be able to “download 5x faster” than Sky’s and BT’s broadband customers“.

Virgin Media and its advertising partner, Clearcast, felt that the webpage listed above did provide “all of the necessary information to allow viewers to verify the comparisons” and that the “5x faster” statement would “not be understood to be an absolute claim“. The ASA disagreed and “concluded the information provided was not sufficient to ensure the details of the comparison could be verified“. The ASA also upheld the other complaint.

ASA Ruling (Ref: A14-264332)

We acknowledged the references to downloading “5x faster than Sky and BT’s regular broadband” were general and did not explicitly state that all consumers would be able to download five times faster at all times. We considered consumers were likely to be aware that the speed of broadband services would vary according to factors such as the time of day and that the references to “regular broadband” in the primary claims, with additional explanation about “peak average” speeds in the qualifying text, meant the basis of the comparison was clear.

However, we noted the claims that consumers would be able to “download 5x faster than Sky and BT’s regular broadband” were not in conditional language and therefore considered they were likely to be understood to mean that Virgin’s superfast service was always five times faster than Sky’s and BT’s regular services, even when normal variations such as the time of day were taken into account.

Because we understood that was not the case, and the ads did not make immediately clear that the claims were based on an average, we considered the qualifying text contradicted that impression. We therefore concluded that the claims were misleading.

The result is that, yet again, Virgin Media has unfortunately seen a slew of its adverts banned in their current form and the provider has once more been told to “ensure they provided sufficient information about comparisons to allow them to be verified” and warned “not make absolute claims if they could not be substantiated“.

Separately Sky also challenged whether the claim “Sky and BT’s regular broadband” was misleading, because they believed it would be understood to mean broadband services which were regularly available and therefore implied that the comparison included Sky’s and BT’s superfast fibre services. But the ASA did not uphold this gripe because they considered that consumers would be more likely to attribute “regular broadband” to the older and slower ADSL based products that still dominant the market.

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Mark Jackson
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 Twitter, , Facebook and Linkedin.
Leave a Comment
4 Responses
  1. You wouldn’t think this was the same regulator that allows HFC and VDSL to be called fibre optic broadband.

  2. Avatar DTMark

    There is no such thing as “regular broadband”.

    But then there never was any such thing as “standard broadband”, either, and yet, I don’t recall ads making a comparison with same being banned.

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