National Advertising Review Board finally tells AT&T to stop lying about 5G

‘5G Evolution’ or ‘5Ge’ has been a controversial campaign from AT&T because it is effectively lying to its customers, but now the telco has been told to stop the foolishness.

The telco has persisted with the branding exercise, despite widespread criticism from all corners of the industry, though the National Advertising Review Board (NARB) will hopefully put an end to the misleading statements. It is quite frankly absurd that the telco has been allowed to carry on making such deceptive claims for this long.

Like the National Advertising Division (NAD), the NARB has come to the conclusion that the overall messaging implies that 5G is here. Despite the assertions from AT&T, the inclusion of ‘evolution’ does not inform the customer of an on-going technological journey and some may believe the telco is delivering a service which it is not.

“The Panel agreed with NAD’s conclusion that the addition of ‘The First Step in 5G’ does not cure the concern that consumers could reasonably take away the message that beginning 5G technology is delivered,” the NARB said in a statement.

“The Panel noted that a reasonable consumer could conclude that the reference to ‘The First Step to 5G’ was the advertiser’s way of promoting a 5G network, while promising an even more robust 5G network at a later time, especially since the slogan is being used in conjunction with ‘5G Evolution’.”

Starting back in January 2019, AT&T unveiled a new logo in the corner of its customer’s devices; 5Ge. Some might have assumed they were getting 5G services, a very forgivable mistake, but the presence of a 5Ge symbol actually meant 4G LTE Advanced services had been activated.

This does mean improved download speeds, but it does not mean 5G. AT&T is little more a snakeskin oil salesman.

Amazingly, while most companies would have admitted the error of their ways and retreated cap in hand, AT&T persisted with the campaign, even insisted there was absolutely nothing wrong with misleading its customers. It shows a lack of respect for its customers and an executive team which has the same moral code as an unsupervised baby kicker in a nursery.

Although this is a self-regulated element of the industry, there have been two official bodies appointed; the NAD and the NARB. The NAD is the investigatory arm, while the NARB handles any further disputes which may emerge.

In this case, T-Mobile made a complaint to the NAD, which sided against AT&T, believing the ‘5Ge’ position to be misleading. AT&T appealed this decision that the two claims (‘5G Evolution’ and ‘5G Evolution, The First Step to 5G’) should be discontinued. In such disputes, the NARB steps in to be the final voice, and fortunately its voice today is very reasonable.

AT&T has said that while it disagrees with the opinion of the NARB, it will respect the decision and stop promoting ‘5Ge’ and all other associated messaging.

For those who take a more reasoned and rational view of the US telecoms industry, this is a decision which will bring some relief. AT&T was toying with its own credibility with this misleading campaign, and as a result, was undermining the fragile confidence which is currently placed in 5G.

5G is currently viewed as a premium service for two reasons; firstly, it is not ubiquitous, and secondly, 4G satisfies the download demands of the vast majority. If telcos are going to convince consumers to migrate to 5G services, most likely paying a premium as a result, they will need to be convinced it is actually worth the hassle and the expense.

The 5G proposition which is being delivered today over mmWave is falling short of expectations, though the low-band service offered by T-Mobile is also a bit of a damp squib. With actual 5G services disappointing customers, the last thing US telcos need to do is further compound the misery by selling 4G services under the guise of 5G. The trust will be further compromised, making it more difficult to generate momentum towards the new era of connectivity.

AT&T’s stubborn insistence to keep the ‘5Ge’ campaign alive was going to be little more than a net loss for itself and the industry, but hopefully the 16 months it was allowed to directly mislead customers has not done too much damage. Daily Poll:

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Verizon gets wrist slap for misleading 5G claims

The National Advertising Division (NAD) has condemned Verizon for misleading consumers over the quality of its 5G network across the country.

And guess who the complaint was filed by… AT&T.

“The National Advertising Division determined that, in the context of two challenged television commercials touting Verizon’s rollout of 5G service in sports venues, the claim that ‘Verizon is building the most powerful 5G experience for America’ reasonably communicates a message about the consumer experience of using 5G mobile service that was not supported by the evidence in the record,” the NAD statement declares.

While these organisations seemingly specialise in inaccessible language, the message is that Verizon was not fairly representing its network in adverts broadcast at sporting venues.

Verizon is building 5G networks in sporting venues across the US, though the NAD believes the way the adverts have been created suggests a similar experience would be offered outside the venues themselves. This is not supported by any evidence.

Although this would be deemed a win for AT&T, let’s not offer too much praise; 5G networks in the US are pretty poor as it stands.

The telcos are of course facing a difficult challenge in delivering the desired 5G experience, the US is a monstrously large country after all, but the available spectrum is also not helping matters. Despite the telcos preaching about the benefits of mmWave spectrum to underpin 5G networks, the telcos are performing woefully.

T-Mobile has been blasted for the speeds which have been delivered over the 600 MHz spectrum it has been offering, while AT&T and Verizon has been failing at coverage. In a recent Rootmetrics gaming study in Los Angeles, none met the minimum requirements for latency.

The US might be the champion when it comes to numerous segments of the digital economy, but it is failing to live up to its own proclamations in the delivery of 5G. If this is a temperature test of how the US is getting on in the 5G race, it is the equivalent of Britney Spears in the 100 metres.

Washington State sues Facebook over political ads

Washington State Attorney General Bob Ferguson has filed a lawsuit against Facebook for selling political ads without maintaining information for the public as required by campaign finance law.

The social media giant is of course familiar with the inside of a courtroom, and it might be more at home in Washington State having been sued for exactly the same offence in 2018. Facebook settled the previous lawsuit for $238,000 in December 2018, $200,000 as a fine and $38,000 in legal fees, though it appears this was not enough of a deterrent.

“Whether you’re a tech giant or a small newspaper, those who sell political ads must follow our campaign finance law,” Ferguson said. “Washingtonians have a right to know who’s behind the ads seeking to influence their vote.”

Under Washington State campaign finance law, Facebook is required to publish the sources and payments of political advertising within 24 hours of publication. This information include the name of the candidate or measure supported/opposed, name and address of the person who sponsored the advertising and the total cost of the advert.

Interestingly enough, Facebook has somewhat of an unusual and complicated set of policies when it comes to political advertising. Unlike its Silicon Valley neighbours, Facebook has decided against banning or limiting political advertising, and still allows the hyper-targeting features which makes it such a popular tool for marketers around the world.

However, perhaps the most mind-boggling decision it made in recent years was the decision not to hold political ads accountable to fact-checking thresholds other advertisers must adhere to. Politicians can effectively say whatever they like on the platform without fear of breaking the community guidelines and rules.

These policies are major contributors to the image of Mark Zuckerberg as a successful yet slimy and reprehensible individual with little respect for the users which have fuelled his fortune.

In this case, reported to the Public Disclosure Commission that Facebook had sold a total of 269 political ads for approximately $20,000 to 12 Washington state political committees without making the correct information publicly available. Facebook confirmed these ads, while the Commission also identified sales of an additional $500,000 worth of advertising to political bodies and individuals in the state which had not been properly accounted for in the public information records.

What is worth noting is these are the adverts which have been identified. Facebook could have profited more from these illegal activities, as some instances may have slipped through the net, though we suspect the Commission identified the majority.

With a Presidential Election Campaign on the horizon Facebook is likely to receive a significant amount of interest. President Donald Trump’s campaign demonstrated the power of Facebook’s hyper-targeted advertising platform during the 2016 Election, which perhaps explains why the social media giant is reluctant to ban/limit political advertising like Google and Twitter; it is a lot of money to be turning away.

What this new lawsuit needs to do is dish out an appropriate punishment, however.

Every corporation will push the limits of the law for financial gain and Facebook has demonstrated this assumption here. To ensure Facebook stays within the rules in the future, the penalty should exceed the financial gain. A fine which does not is no deterrent to be compliant in the future as there would be a net gain and no material consequence for the firm.

If it’s not accurate, it’s not real advertising – ASA slaps down Three’s 5G claims

The Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) has ruled against the ‘if it’s not Three, it’s not real 5G’ ad campaign following complaints from rivals.

BT, Vodafone, an independent consultant in the telco industry and five members of the public lodged complaints against the advertising campaign, which was incredibly prominent throughout the last 6-12 months, and the ASA agrees. From here on, Three is not allowed to suggest or imply rival 5G networks are not real.

“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 ASA ruling states.

“We understood that, all other factors being equal, greater bandwidth would allow a provider to support greater traffic capacity. However, because take up was still so limited, differences in 5G capacity between networks were unlikely to result in material differences in the experiences of end users at the time the ad appeared.”

Although this is a campaign which has spanned across multiple mediums, the complaints were directed towards a certain tweet and a wraparound advert which featured in the Metro, a free daily newspaper distributed prominently on the UK’s transport systems. The adverts featured mock characters such as Special Man and Burt Simpson, along with the statement ‘if it’s not Three, it’s not real 5G … We’re building the UK’s fastest 5G network’.

This is a creative and amusing approach to promote a topic which is anything but, however, it is directly and intentionally misleading. Of course Three’s rivals offer real 5G, and Three should be punished (although the ASA does not have this power), as these statements are taking advantage of a currently ill-informed general public; the vast majority do not understand what 5G actually is, therefore are likely to take such statements as gospel. It is irresponsible.

“This is part of the cut and thrust of mobile advertising,” said Gabriel Brown, Principal Analyst at Heavy Reading. “Technically, the claim ‘if it’s not Three, it’s not real 5G’ doesn’t stand up, but having 100 MHz of contiguous spectrum for 5G is an advantage of sorts for 3UK, so you’d expect them to make the most of it.

“In terms of down link speeds, the real-world customer experience will depend on how much spectrum the operator can aggregate across LTE and 5G. Looked at this way, where they have 5G coverage, all four UK operators offer speeds way beyond what any smartphone apps require.

“The UK is one of only two markets with four commercially live 5G networks – the other is the US, which is about to consolidate to three, plus a new entrant. You’d expect to see the competitive spirit at play as operators do all they can to stake a claim in 5G.”

The campaign is focused on the spectrum allocation which Three has built over the last few years, but also gained thanks to the £250 million UK Broadband acquisition in 2017. In fairness, it does have the largest spectrum haul and is the only telco with 100 MHz of contiguous, ‘touching’ or uninterrupted, spectrum in currently usable 5G airwaves.

Spectrum frequency Licence owner
3.41-3.46 GHz Vodafone
3.46-3.5 GHz Three/UK Broadband
3.5-3.54 GHz O2
3.54-3.58 GHz EE/BT
3.58-4.009 GHz Three/UK Broadband

And while some rivals of Three might downplay the advantage contiguous spectrum offers Three, Omdia’s lead 5G analyst, Dario Talmesio points out they were the first to complain about it.

In late 2018, Ofcom approved a request by Three to make alterations to its 3.6 GHz spectrum to create a 100 MHz contiguous block of 5G applicable spectrum. As Talmesio said, the three rivals complained to Ofcom this concession would offer Three an ‘unfair advantage’ in the 5G stakes, therefore there must be some validity to the claim contiguous spectrum offers a performance uplift.

The ITU, International Telecommunication Union, is in support of these claims also, suggesting contiguous spectrum would lead to the delivery of more efficient commercial 5G services.

Irrelevant as to whether there is justification to the concept that contiguous spectrum offers better 5G, the complaints are directed towards whether rivals 5G connectivity is a genuine upgrade or not.

“Overall, I can’t disagree with the decision,” said Talmesio. “If the contentious point is the reality or not of 5G, Three’s 5G might or might not be better, but 5G by Vodafone, EE, and O2 is as real as theirs.

“Ultimately customers will be judging them by the quality of what they experience on a daily basis.”

In response to the complaints, Three suggested there was adequate information on the website, even if it didn’t fully explain the statements in the ads. As Three has 100 MHz of immediately usable 5G spectrum in one contiguous block, a position rivals would not be able to match until the next spectrum auction, as well a network which features a cloud core and 20 data centres across the UK, the performance in terms of speed and latency exceeds that of rivals.

However, the ASA has said that this is misleading. The performance is unlikely to be ‘so significantly better’ therefore it would not render them substandard or not real 5G. Ultimately, the ASA does not believe this is a fair representation of the services being offered across the competitive landscape, and Three is not being responsible with its communications.

Once again, a member of the telco fraternity is being called out for misleading the consumer. It does seem to happen more frequently in this industry than others, perhaps owing to the technical nature; the general public is under-informed due to the speed of development and the complexity of the technology, therefore there is an opportunity to spew out half-truths or opaque statements which are taken as truthful.

The telco industry does not seem to want to change its ways with misleading statements unless regulation is brought in. Three has been caught out being irresponsible and misleading here, though none of the telcos are being fair to their customers.

Perhaps this is the time where the ASA should be given more power to punish. Three cannot use these adverts anymore, though it is likely to be mission accomplished now. The seed of doubt concerning rivals’ networks has already been planted in the minds of the general public. It might not grow into anything, but as there is no financial penalty for the misleading claims, this is a no-loss gamble for Three.

If there was a financial penalty for these statements, the telcos might be forced into being honest with their customers, but as it stands, the ASA has been defanged by bureaucracy.

BT and O2 fall foul of UK advertising rules

Both BT and O2 have been given a slap on the wrist for airing misleading advertisements in the UK aired across the course of 2019.

While the misleading claims from telcos are starting to be weaned out through new regulations, old habits occasionally creep through. Once again, creative marketers are determined to undermine the trust the consumer places in the telcos by making misleading, unsubstantiated or just inaccurate statements.

All of the telcos are guilty of this nefarious marketing practice, though looking at the number of complaints directed towards the Advertising Standards Authority (ASA), BT, Virgin Media and Vodafone are particularly underhanded.

Starting with BT, the complaints were made by Virgin Media, Vodafone and fourteen members of the public, suggesting the team made misleading claims for the performance and technical capabilities of its wifi products.

Firstly, the accuracy of two statements were called into question; ‘only we guarantee wifi in every room’ and ‘we guarantee a strong signal in every room’, through the deployment of additional wifi discs which could be placed around the home. BT has said it has data from trials with 1078 customers which prove in 96% of cases full coverage could be achieved throughout the home with one additional disc, while the remainder were satisfied with two additional discs. Only one customer was entitled to a £20 discount as coverage could not be given throughout the home with the additional discs.

The ASA conceded that customers were likely to understand that exceptional circumstances could be applied, however the statements were too bold and promised too much, while the science to back up the claims could not be effectively reproduced on scale. The data was also not specific when it came to devices or time of day.

“…we were concerned that there appeared to be no reliable, reproducible methodology whereby each room or the further points from the router were tested, with no data reporting which rooms of the house had been tested,” the ASA statement reads.

The evidence did not show what speeds were being achieved on the devices, so we were unable to verify that the signal was strong enough to provide the minimum speed needed to carry out typical online activities.”

The second complaint was that BT advertising suggested these devices would not need to be plugged in. BT said it was common knowledge that electrical products would have to be plugged in, but in a world of wireless devices, this is simply not true. BT is either trying to pull a fast one or demonstrating incompetence with this response.

In terms of the O2 complaints, these were from Virgin Media and Three, questioning whether the ‘Custom Plans’ communication was accurate and appropriately comparing the O2 to tariffs to those of rivals.

In short, both complained that the adverts were not making it clear what tariffs were being compared, while Three suggested results of an overpayment calculator on O2’s did not reflect the actual costs charged by competitors and Virgin Media pointed out that it and Sky also offered custom plans. This appears to be a simpler case to consider for the ASA, as all telcos have made efforts to ensure customers are not continually charged for devices once the products have been paid for.

‘Custom Plans’ have been a significant element of the O2 advertising assault over the last 12-18 months, and looking at the financial statements, it appears to be a very successful campaign to entice customers away from rivals.

Naturally, O2 tried to defend its position, claiming it was doing everything possible to compare comparative deals and that the consumer could make their own reasonable assumptions, though the ASA clearly disagreed.

According to the ruling, the explanation below the overpayment calculator were not detailed enough, O2 did not do enough to indicate rivals also have unbundled deals and it could not make such direct assertions as it does not know the prices rivals charged for devices. The advertisement was deemed misleading as much of the claims were based on assumptions and inaccurate statements.

Misleading advertising is not something which is going to go away anytime soon, and unfortunately the telcos don’t seem to want to sort their own problems out. The dreaded ‘up to’ metric has been removed from the landscape, but this was only down to regulatory intervention from Ofcom not the telcos wanted to be more honest with their customers.

Unfortunately the ASA has not been empowered to do anything which would genuinely curb the creative advertisers who seem hellbent on misleading the consumer. Telcos seem to pray on the misinformed, quoting numbers which mean little to many and self-validation techniques which few have the time and/or competence to make use of.

The ASA does not have the power to direct financial penalties to those who fall short of expectations, nor does it have the manpower to react in a time appropriate manner. In these examples, the BT advert aired in July 2019, while O2’s hit the screens in January 2019. These adverts are no longer being used as the telco has already realised the rewards. All the ASA can do is issue a generic statement, dictating the adverts can no-longer be used in their current form; this is redundant action.

With little enforcement, the responsibility to be fair and reasonable falls on the advertisers. Unfortunately, these companies have shown little respect to the consumer to communicate with them honestly and accurately. Telcos are as bad, if not worse, than most and there seems to be little ambition to change for the better.

UK AI watchdog reckons social media firms should be more transparent

The Centre for Data Ethics and Innovation says there is strong public support for greater regulation of online platforms, but then it would.

It knows this because it got IPSOS Mori to survey a couple of thousand Brits in the middle of last year and ask them how much they trust a bunch of digital organisations to personalise what they deliver and to target advertising in a responsible way. You can see the responses in the table below, which err towards distrust but not by a massive margin. The don’t know’s probably provide an indication of market penetration.

How much trust, if any, do you have in each of the following organisations to personalise the content users see and to target them with advertising in a responsible way?
Facebook YouTube Instagram TikTok Twitter Snapchat Amazon LinkedIn BBC iPlayer Google search or Maps
A great deal of trust 7% 10% 6% 4% 6% 5% 13% 7% 16% 13%
A fair amount of trust 24% 38% 22% 8% 22% 15% 43% 25% 45% 44%
Not very much trust 30% 26% 24% 15% 25% 22% 24% 18% 17% 23%
No trust at all 32% 16% 24% 28% 25% 26% 13% 20% 10% 13%
Don’t know 8% 10% 23% 45% 23% 32% 7% 30% 11% 7%

It seems that UK punters haven’t generally got a problem with online profiling and consequent ad targeting, but are concerned about the lack of accountability and consumer protection from the significant influence this power confers. 61% of people favoured greater regulatory oversight of online targeting, which again is hardly a landslide and not the most compelling datapoint on which to base public policy.

“Most people do not want targeting stopped, but they do want to know that it is being done safely and responsibly and they want more control.” said Roger Taylor, Chair of the CDEI. “Tech platforms’ ability to decide what information people see puts them in a position of real power. To build public trust over the long-term it is vital for the Government to ensure that the new online harms regulator looks at how platforms recommend content, establishing robust processes to protect vulnerable people.”

Ah, the rallying cry for authoritarians everywhere: ‘think of the vulnerable!’ Among those, it seems, are teenagers, who are notorious for their digital naivety. “We completely agree that there needs to be greater accountability, transparency and control in the online world,” said Dr Bernadka Dubicka, Chair of the Child and Adolescent Faculty at the Royal College of Psychiatrists. “It is fantastic to see the Centre for Data Ethics and Innovation join our call for the regulator to be able to compel social media companies to give independent researchers secure access to their data.”

The CDEI was created last year to keep an eye on AI and technology in general, with a stated aim of investigating potential bias in algorithmic decision making. This is the first thing it has done in that intervening year and it amounts to a generic bureaucratic recommendation it could have made on day one. Still, Rome wasn’t built in a day and it did at least pad that out into a 120-page report.

Virgin and BT start b*tching in Bristol

BT is running ads in Bristol dissing Virgin Media’s fibre offerings and Virgin is having none of it.

The BT poster campaign says ‘Bristol. Don’t settle for Virgin’, inferring its own fibre broadband offerings are superior (or at least more reliable). Pretty tame stuff, we thought, but it seems to have seriously triggered Virgin, which immediately mobilized its west-country operation to plan a counterattack.

It took the form of a large van driving around Bristol, with the following slogan emblazoned on the side: ‘B******T Our fastest average speed in Bristol is 516Mbps. That’s loads faster than BT. Enough said.’ Pretty edgy stuff, we think you’ll agree. The smallprint says BT can only manage a pedestrian 300 Mbps in Bristol. The asterisked-out initial statement seems to be deliberately ambiguous, inferring ‘bullshit’ but also the hashtag #bornfast. See what they did there?

“BT’s broadband bunkum just couldn’t go unchecked,” said Cilesta Van Doorn, Brand and Marketing Director at Virgin Media. “Residents of Bristol won’t be fooled by BT’s babble and we look forward to welcoming anyone who wants to experience life in the fast lane with our superior ultrafast speeds. With a reliable future-proof network that is bringing gigabit speeds to Bristol and more of the UK, Virgin Media is, as always, leading the charge – catch us if you can.”

Fighting words from Van Doorn there, who followed through with a press release about the whole unpleasantness, but we would have been more impressed if VM had gone all-in and actually written ‘bullshit’ on the van. Alternatively, if asterisks are mandatory, how about writing something like ‘BT are a bunch of lying b*stards and we’re not standing for any of their f*cking b*llocks anymore.’ That would have been cool, as would any attempt to exploit the cockney rhyming slang potential of Bristol.

ASA bans ad claiming 5G causes infertility

Campaign group Electrosensitivity UK has been told its advert claiming 5G causes infertility and depression cannot be used in its current form as there is no evidence to support the statements.

In response to seven complaints made about the advert, which appeared during July and August, the Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) has put an end to the group’s fearmongering campaign. The ASA simply stated the group lacks robust scientific evidence and is misleading the general public.

The advert featured a family of three holding hands as they walked their dog, along with four quotes from experts and their fears regarding the implementation of 5G. The advert also suggested 5G would cause male infertility, depression, disturbed sleep and headaches, as well as cancer.

In defence of its misleading claims, the organisation stated that no research had been done to prove 5G was safe, the radiation associated with the frequencies is unsafe, a World Health Organisation (WHO) factsheet on mobile connectivity was wrong and UK Government studies were inaccurate and dated.

The group also stated the question ‘How safe is 5G?’ was open-ended and unbiased, and allowed readers to accept, reject or ignore it.

In assessing the advert, the ASA has stated that due to the assertions of Electrosensitivity UK, the group would have to hold robust scientific evidence, including longitudinal studies with human participants. It does not have evidence of this nature.

On the claims the WHO factsheet, entitled ‘Electromagnetic fields and public health: mobile phones’, is in accurate, the ASA has rubbished this as a validation to mislead the general public. Claims the UK Government is also misinformed have also been rubbished.

However, evidence was presented by Electrosensitivity UK to validate its propaganda campaign. This evidence was found to be flimsy, with the ASA noting many of the articles presented were studies on animals rather than humans, or commentary from scientists, as opposed to robust and validated experiments to prove the claim.

In short, Electrosensitivity UK has no scientific justification to make such statements.

While this is a bold statement to make in-light of the drive towards the digital economy, this is not the first time Electrosensitivity UK has found itself on the wrong side of the ASA. In April 2018, another advert from the group was banned which claimed mobile phones caused numerous different health detriments including headaches, heart palpitations, skin disorders and cancer.

Again, the ASA banned this advert on the grounds that Electrosensitivity UK did not have the scientific evidence to support the claims that mobile technology was the cause of such afflictions. And once again, the evidence provided by Electrosensitivity UK to defend the advert was found to be flimsy.

What is worth noting is while there is little science to support the paranoia of Electrosensitivity UK, this is not the only group which is objecting to the rollout of 5G connectivity.

In Brighton during October, councillors and members of parliament were presented with evidence in an attempt to prevent the deployment of 5G equipment by the ‘Brighton and Hove 5G Alliance’. The group made similar health claims to Electrosensitivity UK, and the issue has been kicked down the road for review in the future. For the moment, it does appear paranoia has won out in Brighton.

Although 5G progress has been halted in Brighton, at least Electrosensitivity UK is being held to the proper standards. Unfortunately, the group seems to be a serial offender when it comes to the dissemination of misinformation. Perhaps it won’t be too long before the next attempt to mislead the general public with unvalidated health claims and mis-contextualised science.

BT launches biggest TV campaign for two decades

BT has launched its biggest TV advertising campaign for 20 years’ in the hope it can link-up all the network and brand assets in pursuit of the convergence business.

The new campaign, running across all available channels, will hopefully build the foundations to reinvigorate an ageing BT brand and push towards creating a new business model, heavily relying on the new ‘Halo’ convergence product.

More than three and a half years after acquiring the EE business, BT is getting down to the difficult work of making sense of the business. The expensive and questionably beneficial venture into TV proved to be a useful distraction for the team, though now it seems it is making progress on validating the £12.5 billion deal which brought the mobile giant into the group.

“Today’s launch of the ‘Beyond Limits’ campaign represents a real shift for BT, inside and out,” said Marc Allera, CEO of BT’s Consumer division.

“Our presence and scale across the UK means that we have an opportunity and responsibility to go further than ever to connect more people and businesses across the UK, help them make the most out of the technology they have, and equip them with the skills they need to shape the future. This campaign represents just that, a bold step into the future, helping people to break down barriers and realise their potential.”

The TV ad follows the story of a young girl as she travels through modern Britain to reach her classroom of the future. This aspect of the campaign draws attention to the innovations which are made capable as future-proofed networks, both 5G and full-fibre, are rolled out through the country.

While this aspect of the campaign does not pay too much homage to the wider scale of the BT business, it does draw attention to the digital skills and education campaign which the team has launched.

Alongside this TV campaign, BT will also brand all of its EE shops with the BT branding and will sponsor all four football unions representing the members of the UK. The BT business does need a brand refresh, it needs to be presented as a modern company in the same way Three and O2 has done in recent years, though we will be curious to see how these campaigns aim to marry the different assets in the mind of the consumer.

If you look at the assets which the UK telcos have at their disposal, BT should theoretically be untouchable. The largest mobile and fixed networks, a wifi footprints with five million access points and a new TV proposition, behind schedule currently but should be launched in the New Year.

The new BT brand is a good start, offering the company a fresh start, but soon enough someone will have to make the brave decision to retire the EE brand, as well as the expensive brand marketing campaign fronted by the likes of Kevin Bacon and Britney Spears. Not only is running two advertising campaigns very expensive, the perseverance of a multi-brand strategy does not help the push towards convergence.

Hopefully this is the first step in this journey forward. A significant brand marketing campaign will refresh the brand and drive towards repositioning the BT business. The TV ad does encourage the association with BT and future-tech and does provide the foundation to build bigger and better things. However, the team will still have to tackle the complicated job of marrying all the connectivity and entertainment assets into a single, bundled proposition.

Teen-focused social app TikTok bans political advertising

TikTok, a video selfie app popular with teenagers, has sensibly decided political advertising doesn’t fit in with its vibe.

For those unfamiliar with it, TikTok is the latest big thing in social media for kids, teens and, presumably, anyone reluctant to move on from that phase. It enables people to make and publish short video clips of themselves on their phones and even splice in other media. It comes over as the best app yet to facilitate the kind of narcissism enabled by the social media connected camera phone.

TikTok’s most popular users seem to be teens doing musical performances or just generally talking to the camera, so it seems to reside somewhere in between Instagram and YouTube. But just as importantly it’s relatively new and unsullied by grownups, so it could well be increasingly supplanting its competitors in the teen market.

Conscious of its user demographic, TikTok is sensibly careful about its commercial deals. The PR consequences of serving ‘inappropriate’ content to kids would be severe and not worth the revenue. The latest such decision has been made regarding political advertising, which everyone knows is often the most bad-faith, dishonest, unpleasant propaganda and totally incongruous in an environment fills with kids just trying to have a bit of attention-seeking fun.

“…our primary focus is on creating an entertaining, genuine experience for our community,” said Blake Chandlee, VP of Global Business Solutions at TikTok, in a recent blog post. “While we explore ways to provide value to brands, we’re intent on always staying true to why users uniquely love the TikTok platform itself: for the app’s light-hearted and irreverent feeling that makes it such a fun place to spend time.

“In that spirit, we have chosen not to allow political ads on TikTok. Any paid ads that come into the community need to fit the standards for our platform, and the nature of paid political ads is not something we believe fits the TikTok platform experience. To that end, we will not allow paid ads that promote or oppose a candidate, current leader, political party or group, or issue at the federal, state, or local level – including election-related ads, advocacy ads, or issue ads.

It’s hard to argue with TikTok’s rationale here and we wouldn’t be surprised if some of its competitors rue not making such a decision too. The likes of Facebook presumably make loads of money from political advertising, but it comes with all sorts of baggage and scandal. There’s presumably plenty of money to be made from the ten-specific ad industry and TikTok would be wise to stick to that.