The Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) said that an advert for BT's "superfast fibre optic broadband" contained information that was not suitably qualified, making the claims it made misleading.
Misleading advertising is prohibited under UK advertising rules. The rules governing print ads are set out in the The UK Code of Non-broadcast Advertising, Sales Promotion and Direct Marketing (CAP Code) while the The UK Code of Broadcast Advertising (BCAP Code) states the rules for broadcast ads.
BT's advert promoted its broadband service, BT Infinity, without properly informing consumers that the service has restricted availability, and contained other comments that would have led them to believe it was "already available to most, if not all, customers," the ASA said in its ruling.
"Although we noted that small print stated 'Limited coverage, check bt.com/infinity' we considered that the restricted availability of the service was a significant condition likely to affect readers’ understanding of the advertised product and should have been made clear in the body of the ad," the ASA said in its ruling.
"In the absence of that, we considered that the statements 'most of our customers are already seeing at least three times faster speeds' and 'Join now ...' would be interpreted by readers to mean that the service was already available to most, if not all, customers. Because [the advert] implied that the Infinity service was widely available, and because we understood that that was not the case, we concluded that [the advert] was misleading," the ASA ruled.
The ASA said BT's ad had breached the parts of the CAP Code that prohibit marketing communications from being materially misleading or likely to mislead, and which states that "marketing communications must not mislead the consumer by omitting material information ... by hiding material information or presenting it in an unclear, unintelligible, ambiguous or untimely manner".
BT's ad also breached the CAP Code rules that prohibit marketing materials that do not "state significant limitations and qualifications". Those qualifications "may clarify but must not contradict the claims that they qualify," the CAP Code said.
The ASA also upheld a further complaint from Virgin Media (Virgin). It had claimed that the phrase 'most of our customers are already seeing at least three times faster speeds' included in the ad had wrongly implied that most BT customers had BT Infinity.
BT had argued that the statement referred to 85% of BT broadband customers who had upgraded, but because the company had failed to include that information in the ad "readers were more likely to infer from the claim that the majority of BT’s overall customer base had the Infinity service and were experiencing three times greater speeds as a result," The ASA said that this was misleading.
The watchdog rejected further complaints from Virgin about two other adverts for BT Infinity.