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Broadband advertising 'battle' will destroy consumer trust

Friday, November 21st 2014 by Ellen Branagh

The tit-for-tat advertising battle between internet service providers will eventually destroy consumer trust, an advertising lecturer has warned.

Neil Kelley, senior lecturer in marketing and advertising at Leeds Beckett University, said providers are competing by attacking each other via complaints about their adverts, rather than actively improving their own products, delivery and customer service.

But he said they would have to find a new strategy in the future to regain trust that will eventually be lost.

His comments come after Sky was ordered by the advertising watchdog to remove an ad in which it claimed a package was its “best ever” broadband offer after a complaint by BT.

The Advertising Standards Authority’s (ASA) ruling is the latest in a series of complaints made by ISPs against their rivals, often accusing them of misleading customers.

Speaking to Cable.co.uk, Mr Kelley said: “It is the latest in a long line of complaints that competitors have been putting against each other via the ASA going on for quite a while.

“Isn’t it a very, very strange thing? They’ve taken the battle rather than for products, rather than for customer service, rather than for service delivery, actually to compete in and attack each other via complaints for advertising content.”

He said while in other areas industries might compete via advertising by claiming their products are superior, it was more unusual to see firms attacking each other by criticising their rivals’ ads.

That could be due to the complexity of packages and offers available to the consumer, he said.

But he said the “one-upmanship” between ISPs and accusations of each other misleading consumers could destroy trust in communications from the whole sector.

“There will be the shift that basically the more consumers see about each of these misleading the consumer, everybody will be tarred with the same brush and the trust in the communications from the whole sector will be lost.

“And ultimately there will come a point where that happens and then they will change their strategy in relation to advertising to try and regain that trust in the future.”

The issue of clearer advertising in the telecoms industry was highlighted earlier this week, with Consumer group Which? calling for tighter guidelines.

As part of its “Give us broadband speed guaranteed” campaign, it has urged watchdogs to review guidelines on advertised broadband speeds – which currently need only apply to 10% of customers.

The group wants advertised speeds to more closely match the actual experience of the majority of customers, for providers to be upfront about how many people can actually get an advertised speed, and also called for guidelines to require that adverts quantify speed claims like “superfast”.

Commenting on the Which? campaign, an Ofcom spokesperson said that while its remit does not extend to advertising, it has introduced an industry code of practice to make sure ISPs provide high standards of speeds information.

It is looking at ways to strengthen the code and expects to announce improvements in the coming months.

The spokesperson said: “It’s important that consumers have access to clear and transparent information on the speeds offered by broadband providers to ensure they can make informed purchasing decisions.”

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