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ASA Ban Misleading O2 Ad Claim of Being the UK’s No.1 Network

Wednesday, February 24th, 2021 (8:55 am) - Score 2,136
o2 uk mobile sim

Complaints by rival mobile operators EE (BT) and Vodafone have resulted in the Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) banning several adverts for O2’s (Telefonica) mobile service, which the authority ruled had “misleadingly” claimed itself to be “the UK’s No.1 Network,” albeit without adequate substantiation.

At the centre of all this were two adverts for O2 – a TV (a) and national press (b) promotion – that had been seen in September 2020. However, the claim wasn’t based on any objective performance criteria or wider comparison, but rather the “total number of connections to O2 vs number of connections to each of Vodafone, BT Group and Three.”

In the eyes of consumers such bold claims can easily be open to a number of different interpretations, although in fairness O2’s adverts did specify that they were only considering the total number of connections as their base for comparison (i.e. “Connections are defined as the number of Subscriber Identity Modules (SIMs) classed as active in the last 90 days“). But this wasn’t enough for the ASA.

ASA Ruling (REF: G20-1081664 Telefonica UK Ltd)

We considered that … the claim was open to a number of different interpretations for example, highest turnover amongst mobile providers; having the most customers; offering the best-selling product/package; or having the most efficient physical infrastructure. Given the number of potential interpretations, we considered the claim was ambiguous and that the ads needed to make the basis of the claim clear.

We considered consumers were likely to understand from this that “connections” referred to active customers or phone numbers. However, it was only after going through to the terms and conditions that consumers would see the comparative figure tables that included MVNO and M2M sims.

However, we noted that Machine-to-Machine connections (M2M, where devices communicated to each other without human intervention such as in smart home systems) were also included in the comparison. We acknowledged that, unlike MVNO, M2M customers had chosen to be O2 customers. Nevertheless, we considered they too needed to be excluded from the calculations because consumers were unlikely to have them in mind in a comparison of customer numbers.

Without MVNO and M2M, the verification information did not rank O2 in first place above all of Vodafone, BT Group and Three. Because the ads and the information they directed consumers to did not contain sufficient detail for them to understand the basis of the claim, and because we considered the information on which the claim was based differed significantly from what consumers would expect, we concluded that the claim was misleading.

As usual the ASA told O2 to pull the adverts and to ensure, in future, that any claims that made a comparison with competitors “made the basis of the comparison clear and did not mislead by, for example, including inappropriate information in comparative data.”

Leave a Comment
11 Responses
  1. Buggerlugz says:

    This is becoming a tit-for-tat thing now isn’t it? You report us, we report you….

    Maybe the carriers should just deliver on their promises? There’s a novel idea!

    1. Mark Jackson says:

      It’s always been like that, same for fixed line broadband providers.

    2. Bubbles says:

      BT Have really been out for blood recently, Sky, Three, O2. Who next? Vodafone don’t really claim much so i don’t think they can touch them really.

  2. Carl Owen says:

    O2 may have the most connections but I bet a lot leave within the 90 days following too as they have the slowest speeds.

    1. Name says:

      As usually this depends on place. In my place in PE19 Vodafone used to offer ~60Mbps at any time of the day, now it is up to ~11Mbps while in O2 I am getting ~40Mbps.

    2. JP says:

      O2 is starting to catch up now they’ve obtained spectrum to use.

      Been a sharp increase in reliability and speed in my area, but the testing is early yet.

  3. Bubbles says:

    Damn, EE are really going for it today aren’t they! The fact that O2 even state why they are No1 Netowork at the bottom of their ad and they still take them down!

  4. GNewton says:

    And who will ban the ASA for its promotion of misleading “fibre broadband” adverts?

    1. JP says:

      nicely said, the whole industry is a joke, won’t work together and just constantly attacking each others wallets.

  5. Mike says:

    Millions of smart meter connections certainty help with o2’s claim…

  6. P says:

    I remember a time when you couldn’t directly name a competitor in your ads, now anything goes and you get away with it too, the complaints and bans only come after the ad campaign has aired..
    I think if you allowed it the supermarkets would have actual wars with each other in adverts..

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