ASA shuts down Virgin Media “broadband con” campaign

June 29, 2011

You’ve probably seen the adverts Virgin Media began using late last year, as part of its “Stop the Broadband Con” campaign.

This was a campaign which accused other ISPs of using misleading “up to” headline speeds that bear no relation to the actual speeds achieved – something ADSL is very guilty of, particularly on longer lines.

Whereas Virgin’s cable does deliver pretty close to its headline speed, as independent Ofcom reports have shown. Virgin also publishes its average speed on its site for punters to see.

Naturally, other ISPs weren’t happy about this, with BT and Sky deciding to take action against what they felt was an unfair campaign.

The legal team for the two companies stated that suggesting they were “conning” customers marked them out as being dishonest, and they also argued that “most ISPs” using ADSL were committed to explaining speed issues when selling a package.

There were a number of other objections raised, the collective weight of which the Advertising Standards Authority agreed with. Thus it banned the Stop the Con campaign, calling Virgin’s claims “denigratory”.

The ASA concluded: “The ads must not appear again in their current form. We told Virgin to ensure the basis of comparative claims was made clear in future advertising. We also told them to ensure their marketing material did not discredit or denigrate other marketers.”

Virgin’s broadband con website has been taken down, with the URL now redirecting to a key facts regarding broadband speed page on its main site.

While Virgin may have worded the campaign in hostile fashion, the company does have a point about the woeful shortfall in actual speeds versus “up to” claims. However, Ofcom is currently moving to make a TSR (or Typical Speeds Range) mandatory in advertising (although “up to” may still be allowed as well).

What’s just as big an issue is the traffic management policies which go on behind the closed doors of ISPs, however.

Although a voluntary code of practice conceived by the Broadband Stakeholder Group is also in the pipeline, and providers who sign up to it will have to make their throttling policies clear to customers in plain English.

The combination of both these measures should go a long way to making it clear exactly what’s being delivered with any particular broadband connection and ISP.


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