Ad watchdog bans EE ads claiming they're Number 1 after complaint from Three

Charlie Spargo's picture
by Charlie Spargo

The Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) has upheld in part a complaint made by Three against rival mobile network EE for an integrated campaing promising to be, among others, "unbeatable", "unrivalled", and "number one".

A national press ad, outdoor poster, website, regional press ad, Instagram post and paid-for Instagram post for EE, were seen in May, June and September 2019, and February 2020. Each one made various claims that EE was "The UK's No. 1 network", an "unrivalled network", "unforgettable, unflappable, unrepeatable, unlimited, unrivalled" and more.

Three made two complaints, the first being that these ads were positioning EE as the top-rated network for 5G capability. This was not upheld by the ASA after the watchdog ruled that it was clear enough that there was "a degree of separation between the claim of 5G provision and the claim about EE’s network rating".

The second claim, however, was upheld, which was also lodged by a member of the public - stating the claims of unbeatability "were misleading because a relevant measure was not used and because the small print was either absent or insufficiently prominent."

The ASA noted the number of metrics EE used to make the claims about being Number 1, including being the largest single network, outperforming its rivals according to independent testing body Rootmetrics, and being named Mobile Network of the Year award by Trusted Reviews. However the watchdog was aware that the claims could be interpreted very differenly by consumers and the basis for the claims was not clear enough.

The ASA said: "because consumers could understand the claims 'unbeatable', 'unrivalled' and 'No.1 Network' more broadly to relate to the network operator and to take account of both objective measures of network performance and subjective consumer views of the service the mobile providers provided, we considered that EE should have made clearer that the claims... related specifically to the [Rootscore] report.

"[The] claims were therefore likely to mislead. On that point, [the] ads... breached CAP Code rules 3.1, 3.3 (Misleading advertising) and 3.33 (Comparisons with identifiable competitors)."

EE is not to distribute the six adverts again and the recommendation has been made that it ensures all future advertising includes the basis of all network performance claims.