ASA Bans Three UK Ads

ASA deems Three's claims to be inaccurate

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The Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) has banned a “misleading” advertisement campaign from Three UK. The ad campaign ‘if it’s not Three, it’s not real 5G’, has been banned following complaints from BT, EE and Vodafone, five members of the public and an independent telecoms consultant.

The Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) is the UK’s independent advertising regulator. The ASA makes sure ads across UK media stick to the advertising rules (the Advertising Codes).

The Committee of Advertising Practice (CAP) is the sister organisation of the ASA and is responsible for writing the Advertising Codes. The ASA and CAP are committed to regulating in a way that is transparent, proportionate, targeted, evidence-based, consistent and accountable.

The UK’s other three major operators, who offer ‘real’ 5G, were quick to complain the regulator about the “slanderous” adverts. Three argued that its 100 MHz of contiguous spectrum gives it a significant advantage in 5G over the others, whose spectrum holdings are smaller and more fragmented, but the ASA disagreed.

“We understood that, all other factors being equal, greater bandwidth would allow a provider to support greater traffic capacity. However, because take up was still so limited, differences in 5G capacity between networks were unlikely to result in material differences in the experiences of end users at the time the ad appeared,” said the ASA.

The ASA ruled that the ad campaign be stopped immediately and prohibited Three from making any claims in future that suggested its rivals’ 5G connectivity was not ‘real’.

“The ads must not appear again in the forms complained of. We told Three to ensure future ads did not mislead by, for example, using wording which suggested that the service offered by competitors did not provide the significantly faster speeds that 5G was expected to provide.”

At the heart of this ad campaign, Three was seeking to capitalise on the general public’s lack of understanding of 5G. Surveys have shown that whilst the general awareness of the term 5G is widespread – unsurprising, given how much it has been shoehorned into the public eye over the last few years – a broader understanding of the new technology’s capabilities is still far off.

As a result, the public are particularly susceptible to claims of superiority without evidence.

With the ASA telling Three to stop capitalising on public ignorance, the situation reveals that there is still a lot of work to be done to improve the public understanding of this next generation technology, as well as to ensure ethical advertising.