UK regulators uphold complaint against Virgin download caps

A complaint against Virgin Media has been upheld by Britain's Advertising Standards Authority, which ordered it not to run its "HATE TO WAIT?" ad campaign again. The ad, regulators said, did not accurately depict the speed of its internet service. A complainant registered by rival British Telecom claimed that Virgin misled users with the ads, because its traffic management policy capped speeds during busy hours, during which the marketed speeds would not be available. In effect, regulators enforced a component of Net Neutrality on somewhat imaginative grounds: if you don't offer a free and fast internet, you may not advertise it. Virgin's response was that it only focused on heavy downloaders and uploaders, whose activities it claims saturates bandwidth. It added that a typo in the ad that made it look more ungenerous than it is (a 300MB cap was printed as 300Mb – a megabit being just one eighth of a megabyte) and that it was essential to manage excessive network use. The ASA's response? That's all fine and dandy, but it's not what you advertised:
The ad did not make clear that the 26 minute download time was only possible during off-peak hours, or that by downloading one full TV show in peak hours customers would automatically be in breach of the download limits... Because that was not the case we concluded that the ad was misleading. The ad breached CAP Code clauses 3.1 (Substantiation) and 7.1 (Truthfulness). ... We told Virgin to make clear in future ads that download times would be restricted during peak hours. We advised them to seek guidance from the Copy Advice team when preparing similar ads in the future.
The ASA recently ordered Apple not to run iPhone ads without making it clear the depicted internet speeds were simulated.

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4 Responses to UK regulators uphold complaint against Virgin download caps

  1. Rob Beschizza says:

    I quite enjoy the British approach to no-bullshit advertising, though it often makes foolish over-reaching mistakes based on a single complaint. In the same batch of rulings today was this stupid one:

    In it, the ASA determined that even though it’s practically impossible for a child to access Littlewoods’ gambling site (legal in the UK), a Spiderman promo is intrinsically marketing to children because Spiderman is popular with children.

    So you have an example there of one of those characteristically British things where, if it were consistently applied, would result in outright insanity. Thankfully, the virtue of British paradox and hypocrisy is that no ruling is ever systematically applied or pursued, so it works out OK in the end.

  2. bmjames says:

    It’s the Advertising Standards Authority, not Advertising Standards Association!

  3. OM says:

    …This is a hollow victory unless the ISPs were forced to quit throttling and imposing bullshit bandwidth caps. That’s what the judge should have imposed as penalty, as well as ordering any “overage” fees to be refunded that had already been collected.

  4. Anonymous says:

    Yup, call us fussy in the UK but for some reason we don’t allow advertisers to lie in their ads, or even to exaggerate or mislead. It means a lot of ads have lots of small print on the bottom of the screen (especially financial ones), but it stops stupid people from getting hurt.

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