Summary of Council decision:
Two issues were investigated, both of which were Upheld.
Claims on the Super Router product page on www.talktalk.co.uk, seen on 11 May 2015, stated "Market leading signal strength Our Super Router provides a stronger signal than BT, Virgin, Sky and EE ... Fastest speeds in the UK TalkTalk's new Super Router delivers the strongest signal and fastest speeds in the UK. Reaches parts of your home that the best routers from the other big providers can't. Delivers, on average, 56% faster speeds than routers from the other big providers*". The asterisk linked to text in the small print that stated "*Super Router comparison vs. BT, Virgin, EE & Sky Correct as of 25/03/2015. Testronics independent test results 2014 & 2015 in which the Super router was compared to the BT Home Hub 4, BT Home Hub 5, Virgin Superhub 2, Sky Hub SR101, Sky Hub SR101 and EE Bright Box 2".
BT challenged whether:
1. the comparison claims were misleading and could be substantiated; and
2. sufficient information was provided to verify the comparison claims.
1. TalkTalk Telecom Ltd explained that they commissioned an independent test facility to conduct benchmarking for TalkTalk's Super Router against the routers of their four major competitors on a like for like basis. Tests were conducted in a variety of consumer home environments in order to reflect use in different settings. They said the report concluded that the Super Router was found to have the strongest and fastest signal in more cases than any of the other routers tested and, on average, customers across a variety of property and Wi-Fi types were more likely to experience the strongest and fastest signal with the Super Router.
TalkTalk said wireless speed was tested on a range of Wi-Fi types within the different environments and the results demonstrated that the Super Router had an average speed of 128.8 Mb per second while the competitor products averaged between 45.2 and 122 Mb/s. However, for the sake of clarity, they said they would amend the claims "Fastest speeds in the UK", "delivers the ... fastest speeds in the UK" and "Delivers, on average, 56% faster speeds ..." to state "faster wireless speeds …”. They explained that they added all the results from the throughput tests and divided it by the number of providers. The results showed the Super Router was on average 56% faster than the average of the other providers.
TalkTalk said the test results had shown that the Super Router provided stronger signal strength in more locations than the other routers tested. They believed that, because the router was shown to have a stronger signal than that of its rivals, it followed that such signal strength could reach parts of the consumers’ home that other routers could not. They also believed that the heat maps, taken at the time, supported that assumption.
2. TalkTalk said the test report was available via links on their website. Text stating the basis for the claims appeared at the bottom of the Super Router product page and linked to the test report. Consumers could also link through from the same text on the main sales page. They said they had redrafted the report to make it consumer friendly and easier to understand without a large amount of technical knowledge. The full report, with redactions for commercially sensitive information, could be made available on request.
The ASA considered that consumers would understand the claims on the Super Router page to mean that the router had stronger signal strength and faster speeds than their competitors' routers. We understood that the claims “Market leading signal strength”, “Our Super Router provides a stronger signal than BT, Virgin, Sky and EE”, “Fastest speeds in the UK”, “TalkTalk's new Super Router delivers the strongest signal and fastest speeds in the UK”, “Reaches parts of your home that the best routers from the other big providers can't” and “Delivers, on average, 56% faster speeds than routers from the other big providers” were based on the results of tests comparing the performance of the Super Router with routers of four of TalkTalk’s major competitors.
We noted the wireless performance comparison was based on signal strength and speed, which we understood was an acceptable way to compare router performance. Seven competitor routers were tested using three Wi-Fi types, with three wireless USB adapters depending on the Wi-Fi type being tested. The routers were measured on each floor of three different furnished properties: a one-floor apartment (property one); a detached house with two floors (property two)[ and a two-floor semi-detached property (property three), which we considered was likely to be a typical reflection of UK household environments.
For signal strength testing, a total of 15 unique measurements were taken for each router in all three properties. Five positions were chosen and measurements taken for the Wi-Fi type supported by each router. The strength of the Wi-Fi signal was captured using a software tool that provided a heat map showing signal strength for each point in the accommodation.
The test report presented the results for each of the three Wi-Fi types for property one, the ground floor for property two, the first floor for property two, the ground and first floors for property three. The router with the strongest signal in each category was named, but the actual signal strength was not stated and the results for the other routers tested were not included. Because the report did not provide a breakdown of individual results it was not possible to compare signal strengths or establish whether the named routers had the strongest signal in most cases or was based on an average. Notwithstanding that point, we noted the report stated the TalkTalk Super Router had the strongest signal in four out of the five categories for Wi-Fi type 2.4 Ghz 802.11n Wi-Fi, but only had the strongest signal in two of the five categories for the 5 GHz 802.11n and only one for 5 Ghz 802.11ac. We considered that consumers would understand the claims “Our Super Router provides a stronger signal than BT, Virgin, Sky and EE” and “Super Router delivers the strongest signal … in the UK” to mean that the Super Router provided a stronger signal than its rivals in all situations, not just for specific Wi-Fi types.
We noted the claim “[Super Router] Reaches parts of the home that the best routers from the other big providers can’t” was based on the assumption that if the router had the strongest signal it would automatically follow that it would be able to reach areas that routers with a less strong signal could reach and that TalkTalk believed the heat maps supported that argument. They provided heat maps for the best and worst performing routers for all three Wi-Fi types at each of the property locations. Although the Super Router results were strong for one of the three W-Fi types, the router performed less well for the other two. As with the stronger signal claims above, we considered that consumers would understand the claim “[Super Router] Reaches parts of the home that the best routers from the other big providers can’t” to mean that the reach was wider than competitor products in all situations, not just for specific Wi-Fi types.
We understood that in order to compare the throughput (speed) performance, the average performance of the Wi-Fi connection was also tested at five different locations in each of the three different types of properties for each router. In each location the measurements were taken with the wireless USB adapter in four different positions. For each position of the adapter, three measurements were taken and averaged. In total 180 throughput measurements were taken for each router. For the tests, TCP (Transmission Control Protocol) traffic was generated between four clients that were connected to the router being tested. Each test lasted 60 seconds in which a file of around 10 megabytes was transferred from the Wi-Fi client to three Ethernet connected clients and vice versa. The average throughput speed of the overall traffic was used as the test result outcome.
We welcomed TalkTalk’s assurance that they would amend the fastest speed claims to state fastest ‘wireless’ speeds. However, the claim “Fastest speeds in the UK” was an absolute claim that the Super Router performed better than its competitors, but because it was based on an average and the results showed that, as with signal strength, the router performed better with the 2.4 Ghz than with the other two Wi-Fi types tested, we considered that the advertising should have made clear that the claim referred to the average fastest (wireless) speed and, as it did not, it was likely to mislead.
Although we understood the method of calculation, it was also unclear how TalkTalk reached the conclusion that the Super Router was “on average, 56% faster speeds than routers from the other big providers”, because the figures appeared to show that the average was less than 50% faster.
We considered that in order to make a general superiority claim, the testing needed to be representative of the activities that users generally performed. However, we noted the test had been limited to the transfer of a large file and the router had not been tested for normal user tasks such as video or voice streaming, transfer of a large number of small files or opening a web page. Although we understood that it was easier to measure and compare speed using a large file, we nonetheless considered that the testing should also have included tests covering general usage patterns. In addition, it was unclear from the test report what steps were taken to ensure that external interference remained comparable for tests on all the different routers and what was done to ensure reasonable placement of the routers in case they exhibited directionality.
For the reasons stated above, we considered that the substantiation was not suitably robust to support the claims made in the advertising and concluded that the claims “Market leading signal strength”, “Our Super Router provides a stronger signal than BT, Virgin, Sky and EE”, “Fastest speeds in the UK”, “TalkTalk's new Super Router delivers the strongest signal and fastest speeds in the UK”, “on average, 56% faster speeds than routers from the other big providers” and “Reaches parts of your home that the best routers from the other big providers can't” were likely to mislead.
On this point, the ad breached CAP Code (Edition 12) rules
Marketing communications must not materially mislead or be likely to do so.
Marketing communications must not mislead the consumer by omitting material information. They must not mislead by hiding material information or presenting it in an unclear, unintelligible, ambiguous or untimely manner.
Material information is information that the consumer needs to make informed decisions in relation to a product. Whether the omission or presentation of material information is likely to mislead the consumer depends on the context, the medium and, if the medium of the marketing communication is constrained by time or space, the measures that the marketer takes to make that information available to the consumer by other means. (Misleading advertising), 3.7 3.7 Before distributing or submitting a marketing communication for publication, marketers must hold documentary evidence to prove claims that consumers are likely to regard as objective and that are capable of objective substantiation. The ASA may regard claims as misleading in the absence of adequate substantiation. (Substantiation) and 3.33 3.33 Marketing communications that include a comparison with an identifiable competitor must not mislead, or be likely to mislead, the consumer about either the advertised product or the competing product. (Comparisons with identifiable competitors).
We noted text on the Super Router product page explained that the comparison claims were based on independent tests results comparing the Super Router with the named competitor routers. The text included a link to a copy of the test report so that consumers and competitors could verify the results for themselves.
However, although that information was provided, it could only be accessed by clicking and expanding the heading “TalkTalk Fibre Broadband” found under “Small Print”. Clicking on the link took users through to another page with a further link that had to be clicked to open the test report. The text, without the link, was also available by clicking on “TalkTalk Plus TV, broadband and calls”. We considered that, because it was not obvious where the information could be found, the means for consumers or competitors to verify the comparison claims in the ad had not been sufficiently or clearly signposted.
Advertisers should provide the means for consumers and competitors to be able to verify comparative claims by checking the information for themselves or to replicate the tests if they wished. We noted that, although the test report provided some details of the methodology used, it was not sufficient to verify the claims or replicate the tests. It provided only basic details of how the test was set up, for example no details were provided, other than first or second floor, for the placement of the routers, or what steps were taken to ensure external interference remained comparable. A breakdown of individual results for the signal strength tests was also not included.
We considered that, because not all the necessary data and results were available, consumers and competitors would be unable to verify the claims for themselves. We therefore concluded that the information provided was not sufficient to ensure the details of the comparison could be verified.
On this point, the ad breached CAP Code (Edition 12) rule 3.35 3.35 They must objectively compare one or more material, relevant, verifiable and representative feature of those products, which may include price. (Comparisons with identifiable competitors).
The ad must not appear again in its current form. We told TalkTalk Telecom Ltd to ensure that claims accurately reflect the evidence intended to substantiate them and to ensure that they provided sufficient information to enable consumers to verify comparison claims.