ASA tells Three to be more accurate when whining

The UK’s Advertising Standards Authority has ruled Three’s campaign for a spectrum cap on mobile operators as misleading, primarily because it implied it was an independently run mission.

After pleading with Ofcom to impose a cap on the amount of spectrum any one telco could hold, Three threw a temper tantrum. Ofcom agreed a cap was necessary, but Three deemed it was not stringent enough. Instead of using the billions of profits its parent company has hidden away in Hong Kong to compete in the open market, Three used creative advertising campaigns to bend the opinion of the general public.

After a consultation, and a complaint by BT, the ASA has ruled the Three campaign was misleading the consumer and cannot run again in its present form. This is of course not a bad on Three’s freedom of speech rights to moan, but it must whinge in a more accurate manner from now on.

“We told Make The Air Fair to ensure its ads did not imply that it was an independent body campaigning on behalf of consumers,” the ASA said in its ruling.

“We also told them not to make claims which stated or implied that BT/EE ‘dominated’ the mobile market, that it could ‘ruin’ the UK’s mobile internet, or that if BT/EE bought more spectrum in the auction it would result in higher mobile prices, slower speeds and worse coverage for UK consumers, unless they held adequate substantiation.”

The campaign itself was a bit of an odd one for the telco space, mainly because it was creative and appealing to the consumer. Featuring a cartoon depiction of Ofcom CEO Sharon White as a superhero, the Make the Air Fair campaign demanded she take action to create a better mobile environment for the consumer.

It claimed that BT/EE ‘dominated’ the UK mobile market, it would ruin the mobile landscape in the future, if BT/EE was allowed more spectrum assets prices would rise, as well as decreased speeds, coverage and performance. The implication from the campaign, which featured across paid-for Facebook post, regional press ad, poster and internet display ads, was that this was an independent campaign group.

Being funded by Three, TalkTalk, CityFibre, Gamma and Relish, this was clearly not an independent campaign and the ASA found no evidence to substantiate the claims. In short, Three and its cronies were spinning assumptions presented as facts; very dodgy grounds. Such campaigns do very little to change the perception that telcos are liars, especially following the ‘up to’ farce.

While it is our job to remain impartial, Three makes it quite difficult at times. This campaign seems to be just another way in which the telco, which is owned by a Hong Kong based profit machine, is trying to avoid competing on a level playing field. The team constantly seem to be looking for a helping hand from regulators or politicians, playing the David vs. Goliath card. Perhaps this is an instance which will force the miserly Three to put its hand in its golden-lined pocket.