Saturday, 3 March 2012

Top Five Virgin Media PR Blunders

VIRGIN MEDIA aren't shy about talking themselves up.

They've got some of the most skilfully slippery advertising in broadband (quite an acheivement) and their tendency to overstate, inflate or fudge a comparison frequently gets them in hot water with the ASA, their competitors and, most frequently, both.

It may sometimes set us fuming but, on a good day, we love their exuberant sneakiness.

Now you can marvel at their evil genius too with our top five ASA-disapproved Virgin Media ad campaigns.

1. "Stop the Broadband Con"

Last November, in a fit of cheek, Virgin Media launched an online campaign called 'Stop the Broadband Con' which called on providers to display average line speeds in their advertising.

Virgin had, unsurprisingly, just clocked up the highest ever average speeds in Ofcom's independent tests, a strong incentive for them to advertise an average speed instead of an 'up to' one.

It was a double cheek given that the provider still had 'up to' on its own fibre broadband deals at the time and didn't take the 'up to' speeds off its 'national' (ADSL) broadband deals until much later.

Sky, in particular, took exception to the campaign against 'up to' speeds which, it said, amounted to an "unjustified denigratory attack" on its business.

In a further legal letter, Sky also complained that the ad campaign implied that broadband providers "dishonestly deceive consumers".

The ASA said that the ads couldn't appear again in their original form.

2. "10 out of 10 homes with our fibre optic broadband can get 20Mb"

BT objected to this mail-out in 2009 which read: 'only 3 out of 10 homes in the UK can get 8Mb or more over BT lines. 10 out of 10 homes with our fibre optic broadband can get 20Mb.'

The ASA objected to the line on the grounds that Virgin are comparing apples and oranges: the 3/10 figure was based on actual speed tests while theirs referred to a notional 'top speed' - oh the irony!

Fibre broadband (FTTC) is good but it's not that good.

Here, as elsewhere, Virgin took fibres pro list - lower signal attenuation (cable broadband can maintain higher speeds further from the exchange), less interference (less affected by electrical signals nearby and higher data capacity - a bit far.

Less attenuation and interference doesn't mean none at all and, even with a higher data capacity, broadband speeds that users actually experience will be affected by Virgin's traffic management policy.

3. "Delivering TV, broadband and phone down the same fibre optic cable is better value and keeps everything in one simple bill."

Another campaign that led to a slap on the wrist from the ASA - this was a direct mail ad sent out in February 2009 encouraging Sky customers to switch to Virgin.

The ad contained the line: "Delivering TV, broadband and phone down the same fibre optic cable is better value and keeps everything in one simple bill."

Erm, so that's apart from all of the other ISPs that offer broadband bundles with all their services on one bill, is it? Nice try, Virgin.

4. Faster than a speeding bullet

The product of poor timing, Virgin Media's 'faster than a speeding bullet' ads in June 2008 managed to offend a whole swathe of potential customers in London.

They were sent out the same week as some particularly nasty gun crimes. Oops.

The ASA didn't uphold the 10 complaints they received.

The bullet hole was a gimmick, they said, and was unlikely to offend most of the advert's intended recipients.

As a seeming sop to the complainants, however, the ASA did warn Virgin that its envelopes didn't make clear that it was offering marketing material.

5. "The cheapest place to get Sky Sports isn't Sky"

It's tricky to compare the cable offerings from Sky and Virgin but we don't think the latter tied themselves in knots entirely accidentally on this occasion.

The problem arose because Sky TV technically doesn't require customers to pay line rental whereas Virgin requires their customers to have a working line to get the service so when Virgin compared the two, both with line rental, Sky kicked up a fuss.

Since most people want a landline in any case (and need one if they want Sky broadband), though, Sky's complaint to the ASA that they were technically able to provide a slightly cheaper Sky Sports service rang a little hollow.

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