Mobile operator Three has made a big deal of its 5G network – in fact way too much of a deal, according to the ad watchdog, which has forced the company to scrap the strapline “If it’s not Three, it’s not real 5G” after ruling it misleading.
The strapline first appeared in a campaign that launched in August last year with a wraparound ad in the Metro newspaper, which stated, “If it’s not Three, it’s not real 5G … We’re building the UK’s fastest 5G network.”
The rear of the wraparound stated, among other things that “we’ve got more 5G spectrum than anyone else. We’re the only UK mobile network to have 100MHZ of 5G spectrum in one big block that’s real 5G”.
It added: “We’re building the UK’s chunkiest spectrum leading, router bursting, lag punishing, speed dominating 5G network. When the future comes, you’ll be glad you’ve got 5G. When the future comes, you’ll be glad you’re on Three.”
The activity was supported by a Twitter campaign which included a super hero-style action figure called “Special Man” and “Burt Sampson” to reinforce the claim that Three was the only “genuine” provider of 5G.
However, BT, Vodafone, an independent consultant in mobile telecoms and five members of the public challenged the Advertising Standards Authority to investigate whether the claim “If it’s not Three, it’s not real 5G” was misleading.
In its defence, Three parent firm Hutchison 3G UK insisted the extent of its 5G spectrum and the infrastructure of its network set them apart from their competitors. It then attempted to back this up with evidence that it a much bigger spectrum than rivals and much lower latency.
The ASA, however, took a different view. Overall, it considered that consumers would interpret the ads to mean that the 5G services offered by other providers were inferior and that there was little value in obtaining 5G from them.
Having consulted with Ofcom, the ASA believed that as take up of 5G was still so limited, differences in 5G capacity between networks were unlikely to result in material differences in the experiences of end users at the time the ad appeared.
Given that, it considered Three’s 5G service was not, at that time, likely to be so significantly better than other 5G services as to render them not “real” 5G, or such that there was little value in obtaining those services.
Banning the ads on four counts, the watchdog ruled that they must not appear again in that form and warned Three to ensure future ads did not mislead. However, the strapline is still running on the Three website.
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