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ASA tuts at Orange after 9 months pondering complaint

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The Advertising Standards Authority has upheld a complaint against Orange's claims that its 3G network is the biggest in the UK.

Orange won't be able to repeat the claim that its 3G network "covers more people in the UK than any other operator", but coming nine months after 3UK filed its complaint the decision is hardly going to hurt Orange.

3UK cherry picked snippets from the adjudication, quoting from the ASA that Orange's claim "had not been substantiated" and that it was "likely to mislead".

The problem with broad claims like these is that sufficient manipulation of figures can prove just about anything. In this instance Orange based its claim on population coverage, but 3UK argued that someone viewing the ad might assume that the claim was geographic – a view the ASA agreed with.

Network operators are free to make up their own coverage figures, and they not only use different methodologies but refuse to share them, so direct comparisons are just about impossible. 3UK is generally reckoned to have the best geographic coverage, based on Ofcom's maps, but debates about what constitutes "coverage" and "population" mean that exact figures are hard to come by.

Broad claims should always be suspect, and it's good to see them challenged, but even for a complicated issue like this nine months is way too long. 3UK reckons that Orange spent £4m running the campaign, which surely achieved all it was intended to achieve despite the slap on the wrist from the ASA. ®

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