Carriers quarrel over 5G advertising
The National Advertising Review Board has made two recent recommendations that U.S. carriers AT&T and T-Mobile US make changes to their 5G advertising, following disputes over the extent of the claims.
In one instance, Verizon objected to ads by AT&T that were related in part to AT&T’s claims about testing done by benchmarking company Global Wireless Services, saying that the relationship between GWS and AT&T is material enough that when AT&T makes network claims based on GWS testing, it ought to be disclosed. That dispute was initially taken up with the National Advertising Division (NAD) and eventually appealed to NARB.
In the second case, AT&T brought objections to radio and TV ads that T-Mobile US ran last year that claimed post-Sprint-merger benefits for its customers including that T-Mo had “the best 5G network,” the “most reliable 5G network,” and the “best prices” for 5G service. The decision was somewhat moot, T-Mo noted, as those ads stopped running in July of last year.
Both carriers said they would comply with the advertising boards’ recommendations, even though they disagreed with parts of them.
T-Mobile US stated that it “strongly disagrees” with NAD’s view of its “aspirational goals not only as claims requiring substantiation, but as guarantees.” T-Mobile also said that it believes that the evidence it provided to NARB regarding pricing “should have been sufficient support for its claims.”
As related to GWS’ benchmark testing, where AT&T has often done quite well including in recent Super Bowl-related testing, NARB has recommended that AT&T “clearly and conspicuously disclose its material connection” to GWS when AT&T makes a “Best Network” claim that is based on GWS testing.
NAD concluded that “without such disclosure, consumers viewing the challenged advertising would reasonably take away an incorrect message that GWS, which has a longstanding relationship with AT&T to provide data benchmarking, has no connection to AT&T other than giving it a OneScore Ranking.” NARB agreed with that finding, saying that “the relationship between AT&T and GWS could be material to consumers in evaluating AT&T’s ‘Best Network’ claim because AT&T in effect funds the GWS OneScore analysis each year.”
NARB continued that its panel “also agreed that there are aspects of the OneScore analysis that are subjective in nature, or that require the exercise of judgment, and accordingly the OneScore results could have been affected by the relationship. The panel noted that it was not making a determination that the OneScore results are improper in any way, only that the relationship could be material to consumers in evaluating AT&T’s best network claim.”
GWS regularly drive-tests and analyzes all of the national carrier networks and publicizes some of the results; several years ago, it introduced its proprietary OneScore ranking system that incorporates its testing data as well as consumer sentiment via commissioned end-user surveys. When AT&T began using its performance in OneScore ratings as basis for some of its advertising, T-Mobile US challenged that, along with AT&T’s infamous “5G Evolution” advertising. But the advertising board at the time determined that GWS’ testing and analysis provided a reasonable basis for AT&T’s network claims.
In response to a request for comment on the NARB recommendations to AT&T, CEO Dr. Paul Carter said in a statement that GWS’ U.S. national benchmarking program “is the largest and most comprehensive in the world, covering more miles and hundreds more markets than any other similar program. Further, it utilizes commercially available engineering test equipment to collect the network data in a scientific manner. GWS independently developed a wireless network performance ranking methodology called OneScore. This is the only ranking approach that directly solicits and includes input from consumers on what network performance aspects matter to them. GWS applies OneScore to rank network performance based on the collection of the drive data. On two occasions, GWS’s OneScore approach has been included as part of larger reviews conducted by the National Advertising Division (NAD). In the first review, it was determined that OneScore’s consumer survey, as well as the GWS drive testing, was a reasonable basis for a network performance claim. And, in the second appealed review, GWS is pleased that NARB did not make any determination that OneScore was ‘improper in any way.’”
AT&T for its part, said that it was pleased with several of the panel’s conclusions, but said it respectfully disagreed with the panel’s recommendation that it either discontinue or clarify the “Best Network” portion and that it disagreed with the panel’s conclusion “that there is a material connection between the company and Global Wireless Solutions necessitating disclosure.”
The NARB panel also recommended that AT&T either discontinue its claim that AT&T is “Building 5G on America’s Best Network,” or say clearly that the “Best Network” referred to in that statement is actually AT&T’s 4G network.
To Verizon’s disappointment, NAD had found that AT&T’s series of “just OK is not OK” ads in the contexts presented was not falsely disparaging of other carriers.