The Advertising Standards Authority has banned adverts for Vodafone broadband that it says misled customers about internet speeds and discounts.
At issue was the claim, in television and radio adverts featuring actor Martin Freeman, that “Vodafone guarantee your home broadband speeds or money off until it’s fixed.” Following complaints from customers and telecoms rival BT, the ASA ruled that the claim was “misleading.”
Vodafone currently offers two packages of fibre (FTTC) broadband, with average download speeds of 35 Mbps and 63 Mbps. Under its “Ultimate Speed Guarantee,” customers are guaranteed minimum download speeds of 25 Mbps or 55 Mbps and can claim a 15% discount on their monthly bills if these speeds aren’t delivered.
However, what Vodafone’s television and radio ads don’t make clear is that the guarantee applies only to ‘sync speeds’—the speed of the connection between a router and the local telephone exchange—and that other factors, including weak WiFi networks and traffic on the line, can affect consumer experience.
The Advertising Standards Authority ruling stated: “We were concerned that any guarantee based on sync speeds, which were not an accurate measure of the speeds experienced by customers on their devices, was likely to result in some customers experiencing problems associated with slow speeds but still not qualifying for the guarantee.”
In Vodafone’s television spot, Sherlock actor Freeman is seen playing an online video game, which cuts out at a crucial moment. A fellow player admonishes him to “just get Vodafone.”
However, as the ASA ruling notes, customer experience online, particularly on online games, can be influenced by other factors, including upload speed and other users on the connection, not protected by Vodafone’s speed guarantee.
“Because the ads suggested that Vodafone could guarantee minimum speeds that were fast enough that customers did not experience common issues such as buffering when using their devices in the home to perform typical online activities, when customers did experience such issues but did not qualify for the guarantee, we concluded that the ads were misleading,” ASA stated.
Although not specified in the ASA ruling, internet performance in online gaming is also affected by the latency—lag—of the connection. Consumers could be receiving adequate download speeds from Vodafone, but, like Freeman’s character in the TV advert, miss key plays due to lag on the connection.
Vodafone said it was “disappointed” by the ruling. A Vodafone spokesperson argued that the “TV and radio ads created a scenario that customers would understand to represent broadband speed and the relatable frustrations experienced.”
She said the provider’s speed guarantee “is still unmatched in the market as no other major brand offers a promise like this across their entire range, nor do they apply discounts directly to customers’ bills if they don’t deliver.”