Virgin Media’s Usain Bolt online ads banned

Virgin Media has been slammed by the advertising watchdog for misleading online activity featuring runner Usain Bolt to promote broadband speeds after a challenge from BSkyB.

Virgin Media

The focus of complaints were two website ads and a sponsored search engine ad. The ads took the theme from Virgin Media’s campaign featuring Bolt dressed up as Virgin Group founder Richard Branson.

The ad included text saying “My customers already have the UK’s fastest broadband but they’d get a lot more enjoyment out of it if I doubled their speeds. So that’s what I’m going to do for over 4 million Virgin Broadband customers”.

It included a text box for customers to input their postcode and small print stated “Important information. Cabled areas only. Fastest broadband download speeds widely available to consumers according to 2009 – 2011 Ofcom reports. 100Mb customers will see price-cut instead of speed doubling.”

Rival broadband operator BSkyB challenged whether the claims of “Cabled areas only” and a price cut for 100Mb customers in the small print was misleading and contradicted the main claim.

BSkyB and members of the public also felt the text referring the “doubling everyone’s broadband speed” was misleading because exclusions applied, including non-Virgin customers.

Virgin Media defended the ads, saying that as all existing 100Mb customers were notified they had not been misled. It had also made clear the speed doubling programme would take 18 months to complete and that the upgrade would happen area by area.

The Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) said that the text suggested all Virgin customers would have their broadband speed doubled and that the exemptions directly contradicted the main claim. It ruled that the ads should not run again.

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