Ryan Reynolds ‘fastest broadband’ BT ads banned after Virgin Media complaint

Adverts claiming BT offer the fastest broadband for the cheapest price was misleading says ASA.

A recent BT advert which ran across TV, national press and online starring Deadpool star Ryan Reynolds has been banned by ASA (Advertising Standards Authority) following complaints from rival broadband provider Virgin Media for misleading claims about BT broadband service speeds.

ASA banned the adverts in their current form which is a moot point to say the least considering most the adverts have already run their course! ASA told BT the ban is to “ensure that future ads made clear the basis of the comparison ‘fastest fibre speeds as standard’.”

Here is the advert that Virgin media complained about…

In the advert, Reynolds says…

“That’s why I’ve got BT Infinity. It now offers speeds of up to 52 Mbps – the fastest fibre speeds as standard.” A laptop is shown in the ad on which two speedometer graphics were featured – one labelled “Sky Fibre” and the other, which showed a higher speed, was labelled with the BT logo. On-screen text at this point explains, “Fastest speeds vs standard entry-level fibre products of major broadband providers.”

The TV ad, launched in April 2016 was backed up by national press and BT website adverts were seen during April 2016 and focused upon the ISPs new ‘up to’ 52Mbps broadband packages.

At the time BT was the first major ISP to launch a 52Mbps option via FTTC lines and all three of the new promotions stated that this offered “the fastest fibre speeds as standard.”

Each of the promotions included small print to clarify that the “fastest speeds” claim was reflecting a comparison against “standard entry-level fibre products of major broadband providers” (e.g. BT’s 52Mbps vs Sky Broadband’s 38Mbps or Virgin Media’s 50Mbps etc.).

Naturally Virgin Media, which was perhaps being mindful of how FTTC performance often struggles to match that of its cable service in the real-world (i.e. outside of headline speeds), complained that the adverts wrongfully “implied that BT’s up to 52 Mb service was the fastest maximum speed for a lowest-priced tier available in the UK.”

Lest we not forget all of those other smaller ISPs, such as B4RN that only offers one package and it runs at 1000Mbps. BT calls this a “technicality” due to how such ISPs only have very limited UK coverage, but the ASA still ruled against them.

ASA Ruling
REF: A16-347899

“We noted the explanatory notes and on-screen text in each ad. Whilst these did outline the basis of the comparison, we considered that they were insufficiently prominent to counter the overall impression that the comparison was against the whole market. Further, even when considered in light of these qualifications, we considered the ads were ambiguous and likely to mislead consumers because the footnotes and on-screen text contradicted, rather than clarified, the headline claim.

We noted that the major broadband providers against whom BT had compared their service, all advertised a slower maximum speed for their cheapest option. However, we understood that there were other providers on the market whose cheapest (or only) service options advertised faster maximum speeds than 52 Mbps, in some cases significantly so.

We therefore considered that, given the likely consumer interpretation of the claim, “fastest fibre speeds as standard” had not been adequately substantiated. In light of the above factors, we concluded that the ads were misleading and had breached the Codes.”

BT’s Response:

When contacted by the ASA, BT offered to amend its advertising to make the basis of the comparison clearer and more prominently qualified. ASA banned the ads from appearing again in the form that was complained about, while BT was told to ensure that future ads made clear the basis of the comparison “fastest fibre speed as standard”.

A BT spokesman said: “This complaint was upheld on a minor technicality relating to the exclusion of niche broadband providers whose products are only available on a limited basis in specific geographical locations, and not to the vast majority of the population (like BT Infinity). The fact is that no other major broadband provider offers their customers a faster fibre speed as standard, and on this point the ASA agreed with BT.”

Final Note

ASA are continuing to investigate whether or not tougher rules are needed to improve how broadband speeds are advertised. There have been only a few cases in the past 12 months of complaints like this leading to adverts been banned so it seems Internet Service Providers are much more aware of the need to be honest with consumers and not make sweeping claims about broadband performance. Only time will tell if BT have learnt any lessons from this.

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