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Virgin Media’s Usain Bolt ad banned after BT and Sky filed complaints

Virgin Media pulled its latest Usain Bolt-starring TV advert following a ruling from the Advertising Standards Agency. 

The ASA ordered the cable ISP to can the ads following complaints filed by BT and Sky. The two companies took umbrage at Virgin Media’s claim that its broadband services were five times faster than their broadband.

The ad pointed customers to a link on Virgin Media’s site which allowed them to compare peak times for BT and Sky’s regular ADSL broadband services with Virgin’s cable packages

In the ads banned by the ASA, Usain Bolt dresses up as a number of different family members
Virgin Media’s Usain Bolt ads were misleading in every sense of the word 

BT said the page didn’t provide customers with sufficient information to make a fair comparison. Sky’s beef was with the term ‘regular broadband’ which it argued could be taken to mean both its ADSL and FTTC (Fibre to the Cabinet) products. 

The ASA said in its ruling: “We considered consumers were likely to be aware that the speed of broadband services would vary according to factors such as the time of day and that the references to “regular broadband” in the primary claims, with additional explanation about “peak average” speeds in the qualifying text, meant the basis of the comparison was clear.”

The advert itself shows sprinter Usain Bolt posing as various members of a nuclear family – including a housewife and infant child. It’s unclear whether or not BT and Sky took issue with the fact that an adult male athlete was masquerading as a woman and a baby. 

Virgin Media said the data it provided on its website was requested by ad giant Clear Channel, which sells ad space on TV. They said the data was up to date at the time and clearly specified the data was measured at peak time and over 24 hours. All the competitor data was based of Ofcom information from the November 2013 test results. 

Since then, Ofcom has published more up to date reports. 

The regulatory body concluded: “The ads must not appear again in their current form. We told Virgin Media Ltd to ensure they provided sufficient information about comparisons to allow them to be verified and that they did not make absolute claims if they could not be substantiated.”


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