Virgin Media ‘Stop The Con’ Site Banned By ASA

A Virgin Media website that exposes misleading broadband marketing has been banned – for being misleading

Virgin Media has been censured by the Advertising Standards Agency (ASA) over its ‘Stop the Broadband Con’ website and an Internet banner advert, after they were judged to be misleading.

The ASA upheld eight complaints from BT and BSkyB that Virgin Media had denigrated their business practices and exaggerated their broadband speed relative to rivals’ with the December 2010 advert and website. Both must be removed.

In its adjudication the ASA said: “The ads must not appear again in their current form. We told Virgin to ensure the basis of comparative claims was made clear in future advertising. We also told them to ensure their marketing material did not discredit or denigrate other marketers.”

Increasingly bitter rivalry

Ironically, Virgin Media was using the website, which featured a letter from Sir Richard Branson rounding on rivals for not “keeping their broadband promises”, as part of its campaign against misleading advertising of broadband speeds.

Virgin Media is advocating a change to make ‘typical speed’ – the speed 66 percent of customers receive – the industry standard, rather than the status quo of marketing speeds in terms of ‘up to’.

Virgin Media had tried to argue the website was outside of the ASA’s jurisdiction, claiming it featured no calls to purchase Virgin Media services or products and was actually a petition championing change. It says it received 15,000 signatures.

However, Sky’s lawyers successfully contended that a sharing element via Facebook made it a viral marketing campaign and therefore within the ASA’s remit.

The banned website had features such as a parody of a Sky advert, an Internet speed test and links to Ofcom’s official broadband report. Sky’s current advertising is fairytale themed and Branson’s letter even referred to the fairytales and broken promises of current broadband advertising.

John Petter, managing director Consumer, BT Retail, said: “This is incredibly embarrassing for Virgin Media: its campaign for the industry to use ‘average’ as opposed to ‘up to’ speeds relied on misleading broadband users to make its point.”

However Virgin Media remained defiant despite the sanction.

A spokesperson said: “Advertising ‘up to’ broadband speeds you can’t deliver is a con. The ASA, Ofcom, numerous consumer groups and thousands of Internet users have all reiterated our call for change and, instead of complaining about a legitimate effort to give consumers a voice in the debate, Sky and BT should step up to the challenge and start being honest about their broadband.”

Imminent review

Broadband advertising is currently the focus of a consultation by the Committee of Advertising Practice (CAP) and Broadcast Committee of Advertising Practice (BCAP), which write the rules the ASA administers.

Responses to the consultation are currently being considered with recommendations expected by late summer/early autumn.

The communications regulator Ofcom also  recently published research revealing that just 14 percent of customers on ‘up to’ 20Mbps services received average download speeds of more than 12Mbps, while 58 percent received 6Mbps or less.

Ofcom is recommending that speeds used in broadband advertising should be based on a Typical Speeds Range (TSR), so consumers have a clearer idea of what speeds to expect.