Three 'Real 5G' ads banned for being misleading

ASA banned work because consumers wouldn't understand how Three was justifying its superior 5G coverage.

Three: began 'Real 5G' campaign last year
Three: began 'Real 5G' campaign last year

Press and social media ads for Three’s "Real 5G" marketing campaign have been banned for being misleading. 

The Advertising Standards Authority banned the executions, seen in August 2019 in Metro and on Twitter, on the basis that consumers would interpret them as claims that Three’s competitors were not offering 5G services of a sufficient speed.

Three launched "Real 5G", created by Wieden & Kennedy London, last year upon rolling out its 5G mobile network service. It claims to have "real 5G" in the UK because it has a significantly greater share of the network spectrum at 100Mhz, compared with the 40Mhz and 50MHz offered by rivals such as EE and Vodafone. 

The press ad copy said: "If it’s not Three, it’s not real 5G… We’re building the UK’s fastest 5G network."

The rear of the wraparound work stated: "Spectrum is the wobbly air that networks need to transmit data – and we’ve got more 5G spectrum than anyone else. Plus, not all spectrum is created equal. We’re the only UK mobile network to have 100MHZ of 5G spectrum in one big block that’s real 5G. We’re building the UK’s chunkiest spectrum leading, router bursting, lag punishing, speed dominating 5G network. When the future comes, you’ll be glad you’ve got 5G. When the future comes, you’ll be glad you’re on Three."

Meanwhile, Three's tweet claimed that "If it’s not Three, it’s not real 5G" and featured images of several products, including a Superman-like action figure called Special Man and Burt Sampson, a rip-off of Simpsons character Bart Simpson.

That prompted BT, Vodafone, an independent consultant in mobile telecommunications and five members of the public to complain to the ASA.

In response to the ad watchdog's investigation, Three said it believed the technicalities of 5G "were not well understood by consumers" and that there was a limit to how much explanation could be included in an ad and more detailed technical information was available on its website. 

Three also said the structure of its network – a cloud core and 20 data centres across the UK – delivered the lowest possible latency and better service experience and that other providers would not have similar infrastructure in place for at least two years. 

Moreover, the company cited the views of the International Telecommunication Union, the European Conference of Postal and Telecommunications Administrators, the GSM Association (a trade body for mobile operators) and Chinese electronics giant Huawei on the importance of a 5G operator having at least 100 MHz of bandwidth if they were to deliver high-speed, low-latency services. 

However, the ASA rejected this distinction, saying: "Consumers were unlikely to be familiar with the technical specifications of 5G and that they would primarily associate it with speeds that were significantly faster than 4G services. Overall, we considered they would interpret the ads to mean that the 5G services offered by other providers would not provide those significantly faster speeds and that there was little value in obtaining 5G from them."

The watchdog added: "We considered Three's 5G service was not, at that time, likely to be so significantly better than other 5G services as to render them not ‘real’ 5G, or such that there was little value in obtaining those services."

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