ASA bans BT advert as misleading (not for the first time)

The ASA complaint against BT

Today (27/02/19) the  Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) announced that it has upheld a complaint against BT. The complaint was received from Virgin Media (the irony) regarding a national press advert and claims on the BT website seen 19 May 2018. The ASA listed the below on its website regarding the complaint:

“a. The press ad included the claim “UK’s most powerful Wi-Fi vs. major broadband providers” as a feature of the Infinity broadband package. The claim also appeared as a feature of the Unlimited Infinity package. The ad featured an image of the BT Smarthub.

b. The BT website featured the headline claim “BT Business Smart Hub. The UK’s most powerful business wi-fi signal vs. major broadband providers*”. Further text stated “*Better than all other major UK business broadband providers, giving you the strongest signal furthest from the hub. Tests prove it”.”

BT logo

 

Virgin challenged the claims saying that they were misleading and could not be substantiated.

The ASA response to the BT complaint

The details of the response, assessment and action are detailed  in the ASA Ruling on British Telecommunications plc t/a BT

In short, the ASA found that BT broke rules on  Misleading advertising, Substantiation, Exaggeration and Comparisons with identifiable competitors.

ASA action against BT

The ads must not appear again in their current forms. The ASA has instructed BT “… not to claim that their routers were “the UK’s most powerful” unless they could demonstrate that they could provide a stronger signal than other major providers when subjected to other forms of non-Wi-Fi interference, and unless they could provide recordings of the levels of all types of interference when each router was tested to demonstrate that each router was subjected to consistent levels of interference.”

BT has previous for breaching the ASA code

The ASA has received a number of complaints about BT’s advertising over the years. Most have been upheld resulting in BT not being allowed to show ads in the same format. They referred to a variety of adverts, website, emails, publications and TV. Various issues were raised and investigated, upheld and action was taken against BT 11 times from May 2014.

BT is not alone. Put in any other telecom provider and you will find similar. When I asked the ASA about BT’s track record a spokesperson said that it needed to take a proportional view. “BT produce thousands of ads a year across media in a highly competitive sector. In that context, a handful of upheld rulings points towards an advertiser that, by and large, plays by the rules. It would be different, say, if BT produced 20 ads a year and we found them to have broken the rules on several occasions. As a proportion of the number of ads they produce, which is a prolific amount, the number of issues to crop up is low.”

Does the ASA have any real powers?

The ASA investigates complaints and tells companies that ads cannot appear in the same form again. Is it just a slap on the wrist? The adverts have run so the companies don’t lose anything?

Another issue is the time it takes for the ASA to investigate. So many months have passed by the time the ASA has made its judgement that any consumers who took on a service or bought a product on the claims of an advert have already been stung.

ASA

The ASA says that it bans adverts that break the rules so they can’t appear again. It says that the company receives negative publicity/reputation damage when it  is at the wrong end of an ASA ruling. However, how many people look at ASA rulings on a regular basis? And how many of the investigations reach the media? A spokesperson for the ASA said  “An investigation and having an ad campaign banned costs the company involved time and money in responding to our queries and providing evidence to back up their claims. It can also cost a company money, in some instances a significant amount, if we ban an ad campaign that is planned to have a long run.”

The ASA claims that rulings can affect share prices. They say this on the back of conversations with companies  saying only that the companies would need to provide this evidence.

“The majority of advertisers work with us, are committed to responsible advertising and agree to follow our rulings. There are sanctions in place for those who are unwilling or unable to work with us. These include prohibiting an advertiser media space – we liaise with media space owners who won’t run their ads – removing paid search ads for the company, mandatory pre-vetting of ads and. ultimately referral of non-compliant advertisers to our legal backstop, Trading Standards who can and do have statutory powers. They can issue fines and prosecute offenders. In some instances this can involve advertisers being sentenced to prison.”

So in effect the real financial damage comes when and if Trading Standards gets involved or if the case hits shares which in essence can only happen if the case hits the media. With the cuts to Trading Standards budgets the likelihood of any local branch taking action against a company is remote.

What can consumers do?

Consumers should continue to report any issues they see with advertising to the ASA. Some issues do hit the media. Such as the Virgin Media story in 2018 (and the ASA refused to investigate that one!) and the Amazon story in 2018 where it told Amazon to ditch ‘guaranteed next-day delivery’ claim which did stop an ongoing advert. many of the complaints investigated come from just one complaint received.

If you took out a service on the basis of a claim though you can try and get out of a contract with no penalty. Use the The Consumer Protection from Unfair Trading Regulations 2008 (amended 2014).

lap top on woman's knees phone in one hand

 

If you have another complaint about your telecom provider see All you need to know about complaining to telecom providers

Further help in complaining

book Logo cartoon cow at a laptop of book cover. How to Complain: The Essential Consumer Guide to Getting Refunds, Redress and Results!

 

 

For advice, tips, consumer laws, information and template letters GET THE BOOK! How To Complain: The ESSENTIAL Consumer Guide to Getting REFUNDS, Redress and RESULTS!

 

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Author: Helen Dewdney, The Complaining Cow

Consultant | Author | Speaker | Blogger | Presenter | Journalist Helping to make, prevent and deal with complaints

2 thoughts on “ASA bans BT advert as misleading (not for the first time)”

  1. hi i found your Telegraph article on 9.3.19 interesting. Ive been using ceo email for years but what you failed to mention is 1.usage of that site is not universally accessible 2.ive found recently that ceos are now removing their contact details because they dont like being contacted. As for BT and Tesco i have recent experience of dealing with both. Tesco now redirects all ceo email requests to customer services. BT in 5 years of cobtacting BT has never contacted me directly from Gavin Williamsons office. I can however provide you with an amusing sideline. An international clothing company let me down with something so i used ceo email. The unhelpful response was”im not here cobtact this guy”. That guy wasnt there and after some emails clearly no-one was aroubd. I checked the original email and this ceos number was on it-i txted him. I then got a response”ive no idea who you are and i dont know what you want”Friendly huh? I suggested he not put his mobile on his emails. Finally like you ive been going to the top hoping a complaint filters down and generally it works. It worked when i sued a national company last year when its ceo was cited as the contact on the county court claim form. But again organisations are getting wise to their ceis being tied up by joe bloggs emailing about his kitchen drawer.

    1. If you find an email address missing please contact the editor of the ceoemail.com website.

      BT – the article did not say he responds to every email personally. It was edited out what he doesn’t respond to, such as legal threats, issues which can easily and clearly be sorted by someone else, or perhaps when he is on holiday etc.

      Tesco – article was again edited – it did read “In his first couple of weeks at Tesco, Dave Lewis the Group CEO, says he responded personally to customer emails to understand what kind of issues came in and to inform staff how he wanted them to respond. Nowadays it is less likely. A Tesco said “Dave responds personally to customers when he can, as do other members of the Executive team. However to ensure that we can get back to customers promptly, we also have a dedicated team of colleagues who respond to emails, letters and calls, and are equipped with the tools and systems needed to properly investigate and resolve complaints.”

      The kitchen drawer story was very recent so some CEOs certainly do respond personally such as Greg Jackson who as the article stated actively encourages it.

      But generally it is about just getting the matter escalated. Glad you liked the article.

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