Virgin Media O2 must stop claiming its mobile network is "the best in the UK for coverage" after the Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) agreed with EE that the boast was misleading.
O2, which merged with Virgin Media earlier this year, is a serial winner of uSwitch’s ‘Best Network Coverage’ award and has used its victories to justify statements in its advertising campaigns over the past few years.
This included a press advertisement published in March 2020 that attracted EE's ire. EE complained to the ASA that any comparative claim about network coverage should be based on technical evidence and not a consumer survey like the one used to determine the uSwitch award.
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O2 refuted suggestions it was misleading customers, arguing that consumer experience was a valid metric as technical evidence alone does not take into account the individual circumstances that can dictate the quality of coverage.
The company also argued that it was not making a comparative claim, adding that the terms ‘awarded’ and ‘voted’, made that clear. Furthermore, O2 said it had received no other complaints about its campaigns and that it included the uSwitch logo to reinforce the legitimacy of the award.
However, the ASA sided with EE, ruling that the use of the term ‘best’ meant consumers would interpret the advert as a comparative claim and, as such, the authority would have expected objective evidence to support such a statement.
“We noted that consumers were likely to have differing understandings of what constituted good coverage, depending on their typical usage habits,” said the ASA.
“Furthermore, we considered that it was unlikely that participants would have an insight into how their own network compared against all others on the market when rating the coverage they experienced.
"Overall we were concerned that the data showed only highly subjective experiences and it was not clear how responses could be compared in a meaningful way to come to a view that one network was the ‘best’.”
Virgin Media O2 has been told that the claims must not be included in future campaigns in a way that contradicts the ruling.
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Steve McCaskill is TechRadar Pro's resident mobile industry expert, covering all aspects of the UK and global news, from operators to service providers and everything in between. He is a former editor of Silicon UK and journalist with over a decade's experience in the technology industry, writing about technology, in particular, telecoms, mobile and sports tech, sports, video games and media.