Summary of Council decision:
Two issues were investigated, both of which were Upheld.
Two TV ads, a press ad and the BT website seen in January 2019: a. The first TV ad featured housemates using their laptops and tablet devices while an animated scene from a war film occurred within the home. The housemates were seen placing Wi-Fi discs around the home and using their devices in the living room and in the bathroom. On-screen text in the centre of the ad stated “Only BT guarantee wi-fi in every room”. The voice-over repeated that claim. On-screen text at the bottom of the ad stated “New Superfast Fibre customers or existing customers taking BT Plus with Complete Wi-Fi. 91% UK coverage. Up-to 3 discs to guarantee wi-fi or £20 off your next bill”.
b. The second TV ad showed animated purple pixels spread throughout multiple rooms of a home. The voice-over stated “With new complete wi-fi from BT, we’re the only provider to guarantee you a wi-fi signal in every room. With wi-fi discs to boost your hub signal”.
c. The press ad featured an image of a woman in the bath watching a video stream on her tablet device alongside the headline claim “Only we guarantee wi-fi in every room. Clever new Wi-Fi Discs extend your signal to every part of your home”.
d. The BT website featured the headline claim “Complete Wi-Fi - only we guarantee wi-fi in every room. New Complete Wi-Fi users Wi-Fi Discs to extend your hub’s signal. And it’s backed by a guarantee you won’t get from any other broadband provider”. Further text featured the claim “With Complete Wi-Fi, we guarantee a strong signal in every room of your home. Wi-Fi Discs help to reduce buffering and dropped connections, so getting online from every corner of your home has never been easier”.
Further text featured the headline claim “Faster wi-fi speeds” alongside the text “Not only will you get wall-to-wall coverage, you’ll also get faster wi-fi speeds, so you should be able to stream HD content anywhere in your home”. Further text under the heading “How our guarantee works” stated “BT are the only broadband provider to offer a Complete Wi-Fi Guarantee. With Complete Wi-Fi we’ll automatically send you our new generation Smart Hub and one Wi-Fi Disc to extend your wi-fi signal around your home. This is enough for most homes to get a signal everywhere. If this doesn’t give you signal in every room, we’ll send up to two more Wi-Fi Discs free of charge. And if for some reason you still don’t have signal in every room, you can get £20 back”.
The ASA received complaints from Virgin Media, Vodafone and fourteen members of the public.
1. Virgin, Vodafone and 11 members of the public challenged whether the claims “only we guarantee wi-fi in every room” and "we guarantee a strong signal in every room" in ads (a) to (d) were misleading and could be substantiated.
2. Three complainants challenged whether ad (a) was misleading by not making clear that the Wi-Fi discs needed to be plugged in.
1. British Telecommunications plc (BT) said that, although they included a qualification that stated they provided up to six Wi-Fi discs to ensure customers received coverage in every room, in practice they would continue to send additional discs until customers could receive Wi-Fi in every room. They said they also helped customers to set up the discs in their home if necessary in order to optimise their Wi-Fi network. They pointed out that this was explained in the small print and on-screen text in each of the ads. They said they carried out extensive coverage testing prior to launch on a trial base of over 1000 homes of different construction types including detached, semi-detached, mid-terrace, flat/apartments and bungalows. In 96% of cases, the customers could achieve full coverage in their home with one extra disc, while in the remaining 4% of cases, up to two more discs were needed to achieve coverage in every room. There was only one occasion where they gave a customer £20 off their following bill on the basis that they could not get Wi-Fi in every room.
BT said before they tested the disc in real homes, they carried out testing in their test house, whereby room D (the furthest point tested and indicative of a third or fourth bedroom) achieved a speed boost from 6.18 Mbps to 108.33 Mbps when downloading, and from 2.7 Mbps to 63.5 Mbps when uploading. BT said they further proactively checked whether or not all their devices received a strong signal round the customer’s home using large data analytics which could detect the signal received on devices. If that data showed that a customer was receiving a weak signal in certain rooms, they would proactively contact them to ask them if they would like another disc.
Clearcast said that in relation to ads (a) and (b), BT’s evidence had shown that in 96% of cases customers only required one extra disc, with the remaining 4% achieving full coverage with two extra discs. They said the qualification “up to three discs guarantee Wi-FI or £20 off your next bill” adequately communicated the material conditions of the guarantee. They believed the ad clarified the nature of the offer and spelt out the guarantee and what recompense customers were entitled to should they not be able to receive a strong signal in every room. 2. BT said that consumers generally understood that electrical items such as routers and televisions needed to be plugged in. The Wi-Fi disc was an electrical item as shown by the blue light on it. In that context, given consumer understanding of the role of the plug in supplying electricity to electrical devices, and the fantastical scenario of the ad, they did not consider it misleading to show the Wi-Fi disc in use but not plugged in.
Clearcast believed that most viewers would appreciate the shorthand way of showing the product being set up, but would understand that in practice it would need to be connected to a plug. They said the depiction of the disc being put down and shown operating was unlikely to mislead viewers given the fantastical nature of the ad.
The ASA considered consumers were likely to understand from the claims “only we guarantee Wi-Fi in every room” to mean that, barring exceptional circumstances, BT’s Complete Wi-Fi enabled their customers to attain a Wi-Fi signal in every room of their house on at least the minimum speed needed to carry out typical online activities without experiencing issues associated with weak signals.
We considered the image of the woman watching a video stream on her tablet device in the bath in ads (a) and (c) would be interpreted by consumers to mean that the Wi-Fi could extend to all rooms in the house including rooms that are less conventionally used to access the internet such as the bathroom. We considered the claim “Not only will you get wall-to-wall coverage, you’ll also get faster wi-fi speeds, so you should be able to stream HD content anywhere in your home” in ad (d) contributed further to that impression. While ads (a) and (d) featured a qualification that said customers would receive £20 off if they did not receive a signal in every room, we considered that the qualifications were not prominent such that consumers were likely to overlook them, and in any case, were insufficient to counteract the headline claim that the Wi-Fi discs were able to ensure that consumers were guaranteed Wi-Fi in every room of their home. BT provided us with data that reported that, out of 1078 customer homes tested, all of them were able to obtain a Wi-Fi in every room of their home (96% with one extra Wi-Fi disc, and 4% with two or three discs). We acknowledged that the homes tested were comprised of a variety of different types of houses (detached, semi-detached, mid-terrace, flat/apartments and bungalows) and a variety of different building materials (brick, concrete and stone). However, 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 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.
Furthermore, no data was provided about the devices tested meaning that we couldn’t be sure that a representative range of devices were able to achieve a sufficient signal, whereas no data was provided about the time of day that the devices were tested meaning that we also couldn’t verify that every room of the house was able to achieve a strong Wi-Fi signal at peak times. BT also provided us with information from in-life data analytics and results from their test house. While we acknowledged that the test house data showed a huge increase in speed after one Wi-Fi disc was introduced, we could not verify from the test house data, which did not test for interference, or the in-life data that adequate speeds were consistently being achieved, including at peak times, in every room of the customers’ homes (i.e. in homes of every different layout and size). Because the evidence provided was insufficient to prove that, barring exceptional circumstances, BT’s Complete Wi-Fi guaranteed every customer would be able to obtain a sufficient Wi-Fi signal in each room of their house, we concluded that the claim “only we guarantee wi-fi in every room” could not be substantiated, and was therefore misleading.
On that point, the ads breached CAP Code (Edition 12) rules 3.1 3.1 Advertisements must not materially mislead or be likely to do so. (Misleading advertising), 3.7 3.7 Advertisements must not falsely imply that the advertiser is acting as a consumer or for purposes outside its trade, business, craft or profession. Advertisements must make clear their commercial intent, if that is not obvious from the context. (Substantiation), and BCAP Code rules 3.1 3.1 Advertisements must not materially mislead or be likely to do so. (Misleading advertising) and 3.9 3.9 Broadcasters must hold documentary evidence to prove claims that the audience is 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).
We noted that the ad featured a man walking up the stairs with a Wi-Fi disc in his hand and placing it on a cabinet. The ad then briefly focused on the disc on top of the cabinet. There were no visible wires attached to the disc in the man’s hand or when shown on top of the cabinet. We considered that the product was one that consumers could reasonably believe could be battery powered, and accordingly be placed anywhere around the home rather than only in locations that were near a plug socket. We therefore concluded that consumers were likely to be misled from the ad into thinking that the Wi-Fi discs could operate without needing to be plugged into a plug socket.
On that point, the ad breached BCAP Code rules 3.1 3.1 Advertisements must not materially mislead or be likely to do so. (Misleading advertising).
The ads must not appear again in their current form. We told British Telecommunications plc not to claim that they guaranteed Wi-Fi in every room unless they held adequate evidence to support the claims. We also told them not to use visuals that suggested the Wi-Fi discs did not need to be plugged into a socket.