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Three gets its own back on EE with a minor advertising standards win

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The way in which small print was used in some ads by EE has been criticized but apart from that it didn’t seem to do much wrong.

The Advertising Standards Authority has become a central battleground for UK operators to score points from each other, with EE getting a claim upheld against Three earlier this year. Three clearly wasn’t going to take this lying down and grassed EE up over some ads earlier this year claiming its 4G network is 50% faster than the rest.

These sorts of complaints are usually quite pedantic and this was no exception. The part of the claim upheld by the ASA essentially addressed the relationship between the headline claim and its source. EE had derived its ‘50% faster’ position from a 2015 Ookla annual speedtest award and had noted as much in small print in the offending ads, which ran from April to June 2016. But the ASA reckoned people might think the claims were accurate at the time of seeing the ads.

EE understandably argued that it’s impossible for claims to be completely up to date and so long as there’s small print explaining when the test was performed there is no deception. The ASA said that’s fair enough and concluded the only thing it ultimately had a problem with was that there wasn’t a clear enough link from the claim to the small print.

Telecoms.com contacted EE, which gave us the following statement: “Contrary to reports, the ASA ruled that our 50% faster claim was not misleading. They confirmed that our claim was 100% accurate and that it was based on reliable, independent tests. The claim expired in October 2016, and the ad had been replaced before this ruling was confirmed.

“They did, however, say that we should have made it clearer to customers that the claim was based on tests from a specific time period. We know the importance of being transparent about the network experience consumers can expect, so we will make sure our top independent network rankings and awards are presented more clearly in future.”

The ruling itself is a bit of a storm in a teacup but it does represent a PR embarrassment for EE, especially since it recently sought to claim the moral high ground regarding dubious claims about mobile networks. Three has kept quiet on this one so far.

The precedent set by complaints and rulings such as this is intriguing. Relative network performance is a constantly evolving picture so it’s impossible for any claim to be accurate at time of publication. What’s to stop EE retaliating again and complaining about equivalent claims from everyone else? To be at all consistent the ASA would have to uphold those complaints too and we may end up at a point when any performance claim is effectively illegal.

One possible ad campaign to keep an eye on might be Vodafone’s triumphalism upon managing to tie with EE in a mobile benchmark conducted by P3. This has resulted in a major ad campaign by Vodafone leading with the slogan ‘Vodafone is the UK’s #1 network’, which seems to imply it was the clear winner.


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