EE wins war of words ad battle over Three

Three’s marketing tactic to overcome its lack of a live 4G network last summer by advertising its “Ultrafast 3.9G network” appears to have backfired after a series of ads were banned by the ad regulator for making “misleading” claims about the service.

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Three press ad (see full version below) banned by the ASA.

Three launched its 4G network last December, four months after rivals Vodafone and O2 and more than a year after EE. In the build up to its 4G switch on, Three focused much of its marketing communications around the speed of its existing 3G network, supported by DC-HSDPA technology, and the fact it would allow customers to upgrade to 4G services when live without needing to pay a premium. 

The adjudication was brought about by a complaint from rival EE, which challenged whether using the claim “3.9G” in summer press and outdoor ads last summer was misleading because it implied the speed of Three’s mobile internet was close to that of its 4G services.

EE also complained the claim “Our Ultrafast network is built for more” on Three’s website was misleading and could not be substantiated.

In response Three said the term “3.9G” was intended to communicate its DC-HSDPA network was “far superior to 3G” and was not being used as an official technological term. Indeed, the press and outdoor ads stated: “That’s why we’ve already upgraded our 3G network with the latest DC-HSDPA technology to make it Ultrafast. We know, all those letters are a bit of a mouthful, so we affectionately refer to it as 3.9G.”

Three said the use of the claim “Our Ultrafast network is built for more” was explained in the wider narrative of the body copy on the website and was intended to communicate that network speed and the type of technology used were “only one side of the story”.

The Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) ruled that the use of the word “3.9G” was misleading because it implied Three’s network technology and speeds were very close to that of 4G and superior to those offered by other 3G technologies. The watchdog added that although Three provided a document explaining the differences between DC-HSDPA and 4G LTE technology, it was largely theoretical and did not contain evidence of actual Three network speeds versus 3G and 4G.

On the second complaint about the claim “our Ultrafast network is built for more”, the ASA said the unclear basis of the claim – which appeared to make a direct comparison with EE as it was immediately followed with the statement “4G is nice” and the Orange and T-Mobile owner was the only operator offering 4G at the time – was misleading and had not been substantiated.

An EE spokesman says: “We’re pleased the ASA agrees that this ad was misleading. It’s a fact that no other UK network can keep up as EE customers enjoy the UK’s fastest 4G network. 4GEE is more than just a number.”

Three told Marketing Week it would abide by the ruling and had no plans to use the text again. A spokesman added the operator had not used phrases such as “3.9G” in advertising for some time.

Three press ad banned by ASA

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