Sky ad banned for yet another 'misleading' broadband claim

7 June 2017, 13:40   By Samantha Smith

THE Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) have banned a television ad for Sky Broadband for being "misleading", only one week after banning a Plusnet broadband ad for similar reasons.

sky logo inverted

As with the Plusnet ad, ASA censured the Sky Broadband ad for presenting terms and conditions in a manner that wasn't clearly understandable, with the on-screen text appearing against a light background that made it hard to read.

Yet on top of this, the ad authority upheld another complaint regarding the ad, finding that the "UK's lowest priced fibre" claim it made was misleading, since it compared Sky's data-capped offering against 30 unlimited broadband packages.

As such, the advertisement provides yet another example of the misleading nature of the broadband market, yet it also underlines the ineffectiveness of ASA, who can ban ads only when they've already stopped running.

The crime

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The ad in question was broadcast on television in February, replete with a Lego Batman presumably meant to represent the "super" nature of the broadband package being sold.

This package - which is still on offer - provides speeds of "up to" 38Mb via a "fibre broadband" connection, and at £20 for 18 months, it was described by the ad as the "UK's lowest priced fibre".

However, one complainant took issue with this description, while two others complained they "were unable to read the on-screen text", and that as a result the ad was "misleading".

The second issue is fairly trivial, and could have arisen with regards to any product or service in any industry. Nonetheless, ASA upheld the corresponding complaint, concluding, "We considered that the on-screen text did not present the qualifications clearly".

Unlimited value

As for the other complaint, regarding the claim that the Sky package was the "UK's lowest priced broadband", it's much more specific to the broadband industry, which all-too often sees providers attempting to distinguish themselves via "sleight-of-hand" differences.

While in a superficial sense the package on offer was the lowest priced of all the "up to" 38Mb packages Sky compared it to, the complainant noticed that it had a monthly download cap of 25GB.

By contrast, 30 of the 32 packages they compared against were unlimited, meaning that subscribers to them could download and use the internet as much as they might want.

On this basis, ASA reasoned that "consumers would regard a capped broadband product as materially different (and inferior) to an unlimited broadband product".

Unsurprisingly, Sky challenged this view during ASA's investigation, arguing that the basis of the ad's "comparison was solely price and they believed their claim would be understood to be a comparison based on price".

Sky Broadband promo

Sky are still running the "Lowest Priced Fibre" claim on their website. Source: Sky

However, Sky clearly haven't been reading their Adam Smith, since they'd know that "price" isn't something that's taken in complete isolation, but rather a symbol of value, of what will be given to a buyer in exchange for a certain sum of money.

As such, to say that their broadband package was the "UK's lowest priced fibre" is to suggest that it offered the most value for the least amount of money, something which wasn't actually true.

Problems with ASA?

Nonetheless, aside from providing another example of the very difficult nature of broadband marketing, this latest ruling from ASA also hints at their own ineffectiveness in stamping out misleading ads.

That's because Sky's advertisement is only the latest in a long line of "misleading" promotions launched by broadband providers, one which shows no sign of abating despite the many complaints ASA have upheld in recent years.

Not only was there the Plusnet one from last week, but there was also the BT ad featuring Ryan Reynolds from last year, as well as another Sky ad from March 2016 that made "misleading" claims about speed.

On the one hand, the 2016 Sky ad highlights the often complex nature of proving superior speeds, given that different factors can influence speed test results in one way or another (such as routers did in the Ofcom study this ad referred to).

Yet on the other, the fact that Sky also had an ad banned last year highlights how ASA's actions have little or no effect in preventing future misleading ads.

In fact, both this latest ad and the previous one highlight how providers can get away with broadcasting misleading ads, safe in the knowledge that, if these ads are later banned, they would've run their natural course and had the desired effect on the public anyway.

Indeed, Sky's latest offending ad was broadcast in February, with ASA "ruling" that it "must not be broadcast again" long after it had last been used by Sky.

This, if nothing else, underlines why ASA's interventions aren't especially decisive in combating the misleading nature of broadband advertising. And lastly, it underlines why customers should always remain wary when encountering the latest "cheapest" or "fastest" claims from providers.

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