Virgin Media has fallen foul of regulators in the UK, after its largest rivals, BT and Sky, complained to the Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) regarding a recent ad campaign. The complaints related specifically to the accusation that the ads made misleading claims that Virgin Media's download speeds were "5x faster than Sky and BT's regular broadband".
As ISPreview notes, BT's concerns related specifically to Virgin Media TV ads, in which the company said that customers could expect to "download five times faster than BT's regular broadband". According to BT, a website at which Virgin Media said that people could verify this claim did not offer sufficient information to support it.
Both BT and Sky made complaints about other ads that made similar comparisons with their own services. The two ISPs insisted that the ads made an "absolute claim which implied that all Virgin Media customers would be able 'download 5x faster'", which they said was misleading.
Virgin Media disagreed with this assessment, but ultimately, the ASA disagreed with Virgin Media, and chose to uphold the complaints from both BT and Sky. The ASA's ruling is reproduced below:
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.
As a result of this ruling, the ads cannot be used again in their current form.
This is not the first time that Virgin Media's advertising has come under ASA scrutiny. Back in October 2012, adverts featuring David Tennant were banned after the company was accused of misleading customers with exaggerated claims that customers "could say bye-bye to buffering with superfast fibre-optic broadband" from Virgin Media. At the time Virgin Media argued that the word "could" meant that the ads did not mislead; the ASA disagreed then too.