UK regulator pulps Apple’s misleading iPhone ad

27/11/2008 10:25:00 – by Martyn Warwick

Not for the first time, Apple has fallen foul of the UK’s independent advertising watchdog after subscribers complained that ads trumpeting the iPhone’s “really fast” mobile web access speeds were misleading.

The Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) upheld complaints that a TV spot for the iPhone was in breach of the regulator’s requirement that advertising must be “legal, decent, honest and truthful”.

The advert in question featured a close-up of a smiling iPhone user getting almost instantaneous access to a webpage and Google Maps and downloading a file in what seemed to be a fraction of a second.

The accompanying voiceover said, “So what’s so great about 3G? It’s what helps you get the news, really fast. Find your way, really fast. And download pretty much anything, really fast. The new iPhone 3G. The Internet, you guessed it, really fast.”

That was the main message but the more eagle-eyed viewers also caught a glimpse of a tiny text addendum, tacked all too briefly on to the bottom of the TV screen, that read, “Network performance will vary by location.”

In a response redolent with non-apologetic self-justification Apple UK said that the claims in the ad were “relative rather than absolute in nature”. Ah. That’s alright then.

The company added that the purpose of the advert was to compare the new 3G iPhone with the 2G model and thus the claim that Internet access and content download is “really fast” was not really a misrepresentation.

Apple UK contends that the “average viewer” watching the ad would have been a mobile phone user (hard to prove that particular contention I, surely?) and would therefore have been aware that the ad was a simplification of reality and served merely to illustrate the capabilities and possibilities of the iPhone.

The company adds that a user would also know that a iPhone’s performance would vary in accordance with different circumstances and that the text accompanying the ad was ample indication that users would get different levels of performance from an iPhone depending on where they might happen to be.

The Advertising Standards Agency dismisses the sophistry of Apple’s argument and points out that the ad makes no mention that its only purpose is to highlight the difference between a 2G and  3G-enabled iPhone.

The regulator also takes issue with Apple’s contention that those viewing the ad would be sufficiently tech-savvy to be aware of the differences between one iteration of an iPhone and another.

In its judgement the ASA concludes that the advert “was likely to lead viewers to believe that the device would operate at at near the speeds shown in the advertisement” and told Apple that the advert must not be run again.

Apple has been here before. Back in August it breached the UK advertising code with its ads for the first generation iPhone. That time, in a TV spot, the company claimed that the device could access “all parts of the Internet”.

However, the ASA pointed out thatas the iPhone did not support either Flash or Java, the claim was without merit, was misleading and banned the ad from being shown again.

Chris Larmour, the Chief Marketing Officer of London-headquartered Actix comments, “iPhone web browsing is only as fast as the network it’s connected to, which means it is the ability of the radio network itself to provide good service that makes the difference. Network providers all have different levels of quality and capacity, which affects how the network performs when downloading Internet pages massively.

Apple’s brand can be negatively impacted by reliance on those radio networks, meaning the user experience Apple is famed is no longer under their control. And this problem can only get worse as iPhone user numbers and data loads increase, meaning the average performance will degrade for all users – there just isn’t enough capacity to go around.

We have already seen networks falling over with the iPhone and it seems data usage has delayed the introduction of the new Blackberry in some cases too. Without investment in fixing current issues or new networks like 4G it will lead to “roadblocks on the mobile data highways”.

In the short term operators may react to this by hitting the consumer with more stringent terms, and possibly higher fees for mobile data, something we’re already seeing happening with the introduction of ”fair use” policies.”

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