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ASA Bans EE Ads Claiming They’re Number One Network

EE ads claiming to be Number One Network found misleading

The Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) has upheld in part a complaint made by Three against EE for an integrated campaign promising to be, among others, “unbeatable”, “unrivalled”, and “number one”.

Last month, Three’s advertising campaign claiming ‘if it’s not Three, it’s not real 5G’ was banned by the ASA as being misleading and the operator was told to discontinue it immediately. Now, EE (BT) has had some of its adverts banned for claiming superiority over its rivals.

A national press ad, outdoor poster, website, regional press ad, Instagram post and paid-for Instagram post for EE, were seen in May, June and September 2019, and February 2020. Each one made various claims that EE was “The UK’s No. 1 network”, an “unrivalled network”, “unforgettable, unflappable, unrepeatable, unlimited, unrivalled” and more.

Three made two complaints, the first being that these ads were positioning EE as the top-rated network for 5G capability. This was not upheld by the ASA after the watchdog ruled that it was clear enough that there was “a degree of separation between the claim of 5G provision and the claim about EE’s network rating”.

The ASA considered that the words “now on” in each of the three ads, in addition to the full stop after “5G” in ad (a), created a degree of separation between the claim of 5G provision and the claim about EE’s network rating, and suggested they had been the “No. 1 network” before the addition of 5G.

We considered that consumers would therefore understand the claims in ads (a), (b) and (c) to mean that 5G capability was now available on EE, and had separately been rated the UK’s top mobile network operator. In light of the above, we concluded that the ads were unlikely to mislead on that point.

The second claim, however, was upheld, which was also lodged by a member of the public – stating the claims of unbeatability “were misleading because a relevant measure was not used and because the small print was either absent or insufficiently prominent.”

The ASA noted the number of metrics EE used to make the claims about being Number 1, including being the largest single network, outperforming its rivals according to independent testing body Rootmetrics, and being named Mobile Network of the Year award by Trusted Reviews. However the watchdog was aware that the claims could be interpreted very differenly by consumers and the basis for the claims was not clear enough.

We considered that consumers would be unfamiliar with Rootmetrics and would therefore be unaware of how the Rootscore report tested operators. We noted the Rootmetrics logo in ads (a), (b), (d), (e) and (f), and further information in the footer of ads (a), (b) and (d) explaining that the claim was based on the rankings of the Rootscore report.

However, we did not consider the presence of the logo sufficient, nor was the further information sufficiently prominent to link Rootmetrics to the claims and allow consumers an understanding of the basis of those claims. In addition, neither the logo nor the further information was present at all in ad (c).

The ASA acknowledged Three’s concerns that the Rootscore report did not take account of additional factors which consumers considered important in rating the quality of the service provided by a mobile provider, such as customer service or sentiment.

While we recognised the Rootscore report rated EE as the best mobile network operator, using various objective measures of their infrastructural network performance, because consumers could understand the claims “UNBEATABLE”, “UNRIVALLED” and “No.1 Network” more broadly to relate to the network operator and to take account of both objective measures of network performance and subjective consumer views of the service the mobile providers provided, we considered that EE should have made clearer that the claims “No.1 Network”, “UNBEATABLE” and “UNRIVALLED” related specifically to the report

EE is not to distribute the six adverts again and the recommendation has been made that it ensures all future advertising includes the basis of all network performance claims.

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