Top five banned tech adverts – tell us your dodgy advert stories

BT’s free broadband ads were ruled as misleading by the Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) last week. But big names including Apple, Motorola, and Nintendo (to name but a few) have all had TV ads pulled for misleading viewers over the capabilities of their products.

BT isn’t the only broadband and telecommunications provider to find itself in hot water, either. In fact the list is a long one that includes Virgin Media, Sky, Orange, TalkTalk, T-Mobile, Tesco Mobile, Vodafone, and Skype.

Quite why companies get in such scrapes is beyond us, but here is a selection of the most egregious – which do you think is the worst offender and what ads have set your alarm bells a-tingling recently?

Share your misleading ad stories in the comments section below.

1) BT – ‘free for six months’ broadband

What did BT say?
The ad, which appeared on TV, magazines and newspapers, claimed that its broadband and home phone packages were available ‘free for six months’.

What was wrong with it?
However, the too-good-to-be-true ad was deemed not to be clear enough as it failed to account for the fact that line rental payments (for the landline telephone) apply from the first day of the contract, and these must now be factored into any broadband deal pricing.

The TV ad, seen in October 2012, included a voice-over which stated:

BT brings you BT Broadband and unlimited UK evening and weekend calls. Plus discounted international calls. All for just £13 a month plus £14.60 for a BT line. And now free for six months. BT broadband and calls – free for the first six months.

However, text was shown at the bottom of the screen that said

18 month term. BT line rental rising to £15.45 from 5/1/2013.

The ASA ruled that it wasn’t clear in either of the ads that line rental was payable from the start of the contract and not included with the free for six months promotion. The ad watchdog felt that in the TV ad, the statement “And now free for 6 months” which was heard after, “All for just £13 a month plus £14.60 for a BT line”  implied that for the first six months nothing was payable with line rental included as part of the promotion, and only after this period would customers have to pay £13 a month plus £14.60 line rental.

It joins other ads from both print media and TV, which have been banned by the ASA, including its ‘unbeatable’ BT Infinity ad from 2012, 2010’s ‘Adam and Jane’ over claims of speeds, and others as far back as 2002.

And if you so happen to be looking for a new broadband provider, be sure to check our Which? recommended broadband providers  our recommendations are based on the real-life experiences of thousands of broadband customers, not just on claimed speeds or deals. You can compare broadband deals, too, though.

2) Apple – iPhone 3G ‘the internet, really fast’

What did Apple say?
Apple’s ‘really fast’ TV ad for the iPhone 3G boasted:

So what’s so great about 3G? It’s what helps you get the news, really fast. Find your way, really fast. And download pretty much anything, really fast. The new iPhone 3G. The internet, you guessed it, really fast.

The ad repeatedly showed examples of its speeds, including a close-up of the handset showing it loading a web page in less a second, downloading a 416KB document, and finding locations on Google Maps, all with waiting times of only a fraction of a second. On-screen text stated “Network performance will vary by location”.

What was wrong with it?
You guessed it, it wasn’t really THAT fast. It was banned following a ruling by the ASA that it misled customers about 3G speeds.  Even on wi-fi at home you’d stuggle to get a web page to load in less than a second, mainly because the phone can’t render pages that quickly.

Of course, these days ‘3G’ is a bit old hat and slow, it’s all about 4G now – the iPhone 5 is one of the few 4G-enabled phones available in the UK – see our list of the best 4G phones in the UK for more. It’s up to five times faster than 3G, but you’d still be lucky to load a page in a second.

3) Nintendo Wii U – GamePad controller gameplay switch

What did Nintendo say?
Nintendo Wii U has been causing a stir amongst some for the wrong reasons, too. This advert for Nintendo’s latest console was banned because it was judged to mislead viewers over the capabilities of the new Gamepad controller. The TV ad demonstrated several features of the console using the GamePad, including being able to shoot at the TV, zooming in on targets, entering key codes, and showed the player switching from viewing and playing the game on the TV screen over to the built-in screen of the GamePad controller instead, and included the claim:

Say someone wants to watch TV when you’re halfway through a game… do both, and everyone’s happy.

What was wrong with it?
Not all games available on the Wii U support the function to swap gameplay to the GamePad controller. Nintendo confirmed that the Wii U hardware is capable of this, but the availability of the feature depended on it being integrated into the game and it didn’t have control over how third-party developers used the capabilities of its console.

Nintendo claimed the average viewer wouldn’t expect the feature to work on all games. The ASA disagreed. It said the average viewer wouldn’t understand whether this was something specific to individual games or a general feature of the console. And we agree.

4) Virgin Media’s David Tennant ad for fibre optic broadband

What did Virgin Media say?
Virgin Media’s ad featuring former Doctor Who, David Tennant, should have been a sure-fire hit, but saw it come under fire instead. Its TV ad claimed users of its broadband services did not experience buffering when watching online videos.

What was wrong with it?
Although ‘could‘ was included in the last statement, the ASA felt it was unclear to which element of the statement the conditional ‘could’ applied and it may be interpreted by viewers to mean that they would eliminate buffering if they signed-up to Virgin’s broadband. The ad was banned from being shown again in that form again.

It’s not the first time Virgin have had its knuckles rapped by the ASA. From press adverts with too-small small print and misleading claims, to a bevvy misleading TV adverts including the ‘superfast broadband’ ad featuring Usain Bolt, the ISP continues to find new ways to rouse complaints from consumers. We wonder if the ASA has a special person to deal with them all.

5) Motorola’s ‘Life Proof’ phone

What did it say?
Two ads for the Motorola Defy mobile phone viewed in April 2011 showed the phone being used in and surviving different scenarios, including being dropped on a dance floor in a night club and being splashed with water at a pool party. Text was shown on the phone’s screen that stated “DANCE FLOOR PROOF” and then “POOL PARTY PROOF”. The phone was also shown next to a broken pot on the pavement after the pool party, where text on screen then stated “WATER RESISTANT SCRATCH RESISTANT DUST PROOF It’s life proof”.

What was wrong with it?
Three people complained that the ads exaggerated the durability of the phone, as they’d dropped their own Motorola Defy phones accidentally and found that the screens had cracked. Motorola strongly believed that the ads were not misleading and said that the same phone was used in the ad’s scenarios, which had been dropped in a number of different takes without sustaining any damage. They said that the Motorola Defy had a scratch resistant display which had been specifically designed to survive impacts and scratches, and also submitted results from a range of different drop tests, which showed a low failure rate, among other evidence to support this.

ASA acknowledged the extensive drop testing and evidence, and also considered that consumers were unlikely to interpret the ads as suggesting the product was entirely damage-resistant and that handset failures could not occur. However, as they had not seen evidence that dropping the Defy from the height shown in the ads would not damage the phone, and that there was incidence of displays cracking in the drop tests, it was concluded that the ads misleadingly exaggerated its performance and the ads were banned from being shown again.

What do you think of dodgy ad claims?

Do you remember any ads that were banned? Are there any ads that just set your teeth grinding?  There’s always guaranteed to be a good few that feature patronising voice-overs or are just plain cheesy. Or have you ever complained to the ASA yourself about an ad for what you felt were outlandish claims, for example? Share your thoughts after the jump.

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4 replies

  1. I am pleased with the BT ruling, but I still have a problem with the fact that most if not all other broadband and phone line suppliers also have similar adverts claiming X months free but either make no mention, or only make a veeeery small print acknowledgement of the fact you still are required to sign up for line rental and in addition, require a 24 month minimum contract. Fed up of these ads fooling the people I love who are either to elderly, disabled or stressed out trying to keep their minimum wage jobs whilst juggling a small family to be savvy enough not to get caught out.

    An additional issue I have is where people get scammed, I had a friend who signed up for Virgin. Being housebound as a result of going through a lengthy chemotherapy, she’d thought Virgin would be something to help soften the blow. She signed up and awaited the X months free, only to be charged line rental afterall. Then the contract started for real and the price she’d been told suddenly shot up by 30% (this is after the offer period where the actual contract real price began). She could barely afford it and despite the stressful and long-hold time phone calls, she was told the terms and conditions allow for price rises like this. She tried to get out of the contract but was told she had another 24 months to go- her x months free had apparently been in addition to the 24 month contract and not as part of it being free.
    My friend has since left Virgin as the contract has now ended, she didn’t have to look hard, just about everywhere (even Sky) was cheaper for what she required, used and had signed up for.

    I’d like more places where people could easily report things like this happening, she isn’t the first I’d bet and I doubt will be the last.

  2. In the email advertising this article on dodgy adverts , you showed a picture of a Humax box.

    Non of your 5 stories even mentioned Humax, you should change the picture ( and apologise to Humax ?)

  3. More than any I find the 50+ Insurance adverts Parkinson etc. If you pay as I did £6 per month starting near 50 you get the payback at about 10 years. Thereafter you pay premiums which reduce your return and if you live yo 75 it is the “most popular” but with insurance companies as you will most likely lose and better put your money in a bank account!!

  4. Heya i’m for the primary time here. I found this board and I find It truly helpful & it helped me out a lot. I am hoping to offer something back and aid others like you helped me.

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