Broadband: should advertising rules change?
Broadband: should advertising rules change?
A view from Staff

The Marketing Society Forum - Should the rules on the advertising of broadband speeds be changed?

Ofcom is asking for changes to how broadband services are sold after it found that most users don't have access to the advertised speed, as the gap between ISP claims and the speed delivered grows.

YES: ENDA McCARTHY, Chief executive, Publicis Modem

The broadband arms race has been getting more ridiculous with every passing month. Ofcom has stepped in, but its recommendation, that "Speeds should only be advertised if at least some consumers are actually able to achieve the advertised speeds", doesn't go far enough.

If a supermarket ran advertising that promoted a price of which 99% of people could never take advantage, there would be rioting in the aisles. Why should broadband be any different? What matters is not literally what you say in your advertising – and caveat in your disclaimers – but what a reasonably sane person would take out of a quick glance at your advertising.

The defence – that people are informed when they sign up, so they know what speed to expect – just doesn't hold water. By then, the purchase decision has effectively been made, based on the information received from all communications so far. If this information has been only 1% true, the majority of people will have been 99% misled.

YES, DANNY MEADOWS-KLUE, Founder and chairman, Digital Training Academy

It has been a bad week for the internet industry. Misleading claims by ISPs tarred the whole sector with a shameful brush of cheating consumers, weakening the web experience and being opaque. It left a bad taste in the mouths of many web media groups, which now know why the broadband experience they had carefully crafted for their consumers was far from the one received.

In Westminster, it embarrassed those marketing Britain as being at the digital leading edge. The ISPs let us all down.

That's why Ofcom and the ASA should act together, swiftly and deeply. The history of false claims among ISPs should be exposed so consumers can think again about the brands they trust and give money to. A "typical average speed" metric should be compulsory in all marketing, based on an independent auditor working to a single methodology. Contention ratios should become public and capacity bottlenecks reported openly on customer service pages maintained by ISPs. Only this type of action will restore public and industry confidence in the web's plumbing.

YES, ROB OUBRIDGE, Managing director, Aqueduct

This is as much a credibility perception issue as a legislative one.

Nielsen's 2009 Global Online Consumer Survey revealed that 90% of web users worldwide trust recommendations from people they know, and a further 70% trust consumer opinions posted online.

With the explosion of consumer-generated media and "social graph" integration on websites, the credibility perception of claims such as broadband speeds can be significantly boosted or, indeed, damaged.

Social media has forced ads for other products and services to use a more realistic form of messaging that is grounded in the consumer experience, rather than the ideals of the brand, so why not formalise it with rules on advertising broadband speeds?

Various factors mean that broadband is not a consistent service, so Ofcom's proposed "typical speed range" will instil a much-needed transparency and reverse the gradually eroding relationship of trust consumers have with broadband advertisers and media.

MAYBE, MATTHEW DEARDEN, Marketing director, BT Retail

When you see an ad for broadband of "up to 20Mbs" do you think the constant speed you get will be 20Mbs? The 'up to' speed is a technical capability, a product description. It doesn't describe the actual speed you will always get, and I think people understand what "up to" means, whether or not they understand the technicalities of broadband.

If we adopted "average" speed instead, we'd have to give a different average for every exchange. Every line is different and affected by a variety of factors, many in the home. You shouldn't feel you're paying for a speed you're not getting, because before you place your order, you should get an accurate prediction of the speed you're likely to get, specific to your line, so you know exactly what you're buying.

However it's advertised, all advertisers should use the same terminology and we must take care not to create a more complicated or confusing situation for customers.

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