Orange Hits Back at 3G Advert Ruling

Orange has become the latest mobile operator to incur the wrath of the Advertising Standards Authority (ASA), after it ordered Orange to pull an advert that claimed its 3G network had a better reach than its rivals.

Rival operator 3UK complained after a regional press advert for Orange mobile broadband showed an image of a dongle on top of a prize podium, with the title “top dongle”.

What raised 3’s hackles was the claim which said that “The Orange 3G network covers more people in the UK than any other operator. And, from under £5 a month, you could be one of them.”

3 challenged whether that claim could be substantiated, because it believed that it had the largest 3G network in the UK, based on population coverage.

The Ruling

Orange responded by saying that its claim was based on population coverage as opposed to geographical coverage. However it acknowledged that Hutchison 3G UK had the largest geographical coverage.

It explained that most 3G mobile networks published their own population coverage statistics and that those showed the Orange 3G network covered 93.39 percent of the UK population, with Hutchinson 3G UK at 91 percent, Vodafone at 85 percent and O2 at 80 percent. They explained that the figures were based on the most up-to-date figures published by each of the mobile networks.

But that did not cut any ice with the ASA. “We considered that the claim… was ambiguous in the context of a mobile broadband service because it did not make clear whether it was referring to Orange covering more people in the places where they lived than any other operator (population coverage), or more people in the UK, wherever they might be using their 3G mobile device (geographical coverage),” the ASA said.

“Because Orange had not shown that the population coverage data they had supplied for their competitors networks was collected and reported on the same basis as their own, we considered that the claim “covers more people in the UK than any other operator” had not been substantiated,” said the ASA.

Misleading Consumers

“We concluded that the ad was likely to mislead,” it added. And it seems that 3 is pleased with the outcome.

3 UK

“Orange’s claims in its advertising to have the UK’s biggest 3G network were completely unsubstantiated and misleading for consumers,” said Marc Allera, 3’s Sales and Marketing Director in an emailed statement to eWEEK Europe UK. “Right now consumers struggle to get a consistent picture of how 3G networks compare when it comes to coverage. It is in the interest of consumers for there to be a definitive view on 3G network coverage.”

“Three is pleased the ASA has now agreed that Orange’s adverts breached advertising codes,” Allera added. “We believe that we have the UK’s biggest 3G network – both by population coverage and geographic coverage – and that we have the data to prove this in a like-for-like comparison.”

Orange Fires Back

Orange however is not happy at the decision.

“Whilst we accept the ASA’s ruling we feel this decision effectively gags us, and the rest of the industry, from talking about our networks as according to the ASA as our claims are not “directly comparable”,” said an Orange spokesperson.

“We believe the mobile broadband ad in question clearly communicated that the Orange 3G network covered more people in the UK than any other operator and this was substantiated by publicly available information from each of the mobile operators at the time of publishing,” Orange told eWEEK Europe UK.

“What’s of most frustration is the company who raised the complaint, 3, have themselves started to use the same claim that we have been banned from using – the biggest 3G network by population. This is absurd and makes a mockery of the ASA’s ruling,” it added.

Earlier this month, Vodafone was rapped over the knuckles by the ASA over an advert claims concerning its Sure Signal femtocell. That advert stated “Only Vodafone can guarantee mobile signal in your home.”

Tom Jowitt

Tom Jowitt is a leading British tech freelancer and long standing contributor to Silicon UK. He is also a bit of a Lord of the Rings nut...

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