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Martin Freeman Vodafone ads banned over 'misleading' broadband quotes

Vodafone has had TV, radio and website ads for its broadband services banned by the Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) after providing “misleading” broadband speed guarantees.

The ASA investigated after receiving several complaints, including one from rival provider BT.

The TV spot, part of a campaign featuring actor Martin Freeman, showed Freeman’s character playing an online game with a friend, using a headset to communicate.

At a critical point in the game, he loses broadband connection, spoiling the session. His friend tells him ‘Your broadband is rubbish’ and to ‘Just get Vodafone!’ A voiceover then stated that ‘Vodafone guarantee your home broadband speeds or money off until it’s fixed.’

The radio ad followed a similar storyline, with Freeman losing connection and being berated by his companion for not using Vodafone products. The ASA also looked at Vodafone’s website, which offered ‘A home broadband guarantee that’s out of this world.’ Smaller text on the website and small on-screen text in the TV ad clarified that the guarantee was only available if a customer’s sync speed – the speed received by a customer’s router – was lower than minimum speeds.

The ASA took issue with the use of sync speed as a measure of connection quality, noting that consumers would not be familiar with the term.

Vodafone said that it had used sync speed as a measure because it was one of the only elements of the service it had any control over, but the ASA said that since sync speed did not take into account factors such as traffic on the line, it was not an accurate measure of the speed that customers could experience when using devices in the home.

The watchdog said: “We were concerned that any guarantee based on sync speeds, which were not an accurate measure of the speeds experienced by customers on their devices, was likely to result in some customers experiencing problems associated with slow speeds but still not qualifying for the guarantee.”

Vodafone said that “the TV and radio ads created a scenario that customers would understand to represent broadband speed and the relatable frustrations experienced,” and that “the TV, radio and website advertisements neither misled nor omitted material information”.

The ASA concluded that the ads were misleading, and told Vodafone “to ensure that future advertising did not mislead” by using unusual criteria to measure broadband speed.

The ruling follows on from the regulator enforcing new, tougher rules on broadband ads earlier this year.

The updated guidelines mean broadband speed claims in ads across all media should be based on download speeds actually available to at least 50% of customers.