For the second time this year Virgin Media has been berated by Britain's advertising watchdog for making unsubstantiated and misleading claims about its fibre-optic broadband network. The claims in question relate to a TV ad that suggests VM's customers would not be beset by buffering delays.
The ASA upheld gripes submitted by 18 complainants to the regulator, after they challenged whether a TV ad featuring ex-Doctor Who star David Tennant had exaggerated VM's service by suggesting that buffering was entirely absent.
The actor was shown destroying the "buffering" symbol on screen with a baseball bat, which the ASA considered had exacerbated the notion that customers would not be incumbered by insufficient broadband speeds.
In its ruling, the ASA said:
The ASA considered that whilst there were a number of factors that could affect buffering that were beyond the control of Virgin Media, it could not be assumed that the average viewer would be aware of this and that, without qualification, the claims in the ad could be understood by viewers to mean that the issue of buffering in general would be addressed by the fibre-optic broadband service.
We understood from Virgin Media that their customers were significantly less likely to experience buffering caused by insufficient broadband speeds because of the speeds that they consistently achieved [no VM customer receives download speeds of less than 15Mbit/s]. We considered that the claim 'Now from Virgin Media, you could say goodbye to buffering with superfast fibre-optic broadband' could be understood in the intended way but, because it was unclear to which element of the statement the conditional 'could' applied, it could equally be understood by viewers to mean that consumers would eliminate buffering if they signed up to the Virgin Media broadband service.
The watchdog added that Virgin Media's claim was ambiguous, thereby concluding it was misleading, impossible to substantiate and contained exaggeration. It ruled that the TV advert must not appear again in its current form.
Virgin Media had defended the ad by stating that the term "buffering" had a less technical meaning for punters who, it claimed, often link it to service interruptions or delays in streaming content. The telco also stated that, by using the word "could", the advert was clearly "conditional".
The ASA disagreed.
In July this year, the regulator chided Virgin Media for suggesting that its broadband is fast enough to spare subscribers from "buffering" delays online after its rival BT complained. The national telco successfully cried foul to the UK advertising watchdog over a telly commercial featuring Olympic track champion Usain Bolt pretending to be Virgin Group's beardy boss. That "bye-bye to buffering" ad was also ruled misleading by the ASA. ®