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Virgin Media's 'bye-bye to buffering' beardy Bolt boast BANNED

False start: Olympic champ ad ruled misleading

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Virgin Media is banned from suggesting that its broadband is fast enough to spare punters from "buffering" delays online after rival BT complained.

The national telco successfully cried foul to the UK advertising watchdog over a telly commercial featuring Olympic track champion Usain Bolt pretending to be Virgin Group's beardy boss. In the ad, Bolt said:

Hi, I'm Richard Branson and I want everyone to say bye-bye to buffering and hello to a superfast broadband.

The ad went on to show various internet-enabled devices, the Advertising Standards Agency noted, and featured a voiceover that claimed customers signing up to Virgin Media's 30Mbit/s fibre optic broadband would experience speeds that were "four times faster than the UK average". VM also claimed that everyone at home "could be online at the same time".

BT challenged Virgin Media's boasts by saying that the advert appeared to mislead would-be punters of the service.

The ASA said:

Virgin Media said they accepted that there were numerous causes of buffering, some of which they, as the internet service provider, had no control over. For that reason they took steps to ensure that they made no definitive claims as to the existence, or lack of, buffering.

Virgin Media said they considered the claim 'I want everyone to say bye-bye to buffering' to be puffery and that Usain Bolt, in the character of Richard Branson, was expressing a wish that he would like everyone to be able to say bye-bye to buffering and not claiming that they actually would. Virgin Media said, notwithstanding that, it was true that with their up to 30Mbps broadband, buffering was less discernible. They said the ad was no longer running and would not be aired again.

The UK's advertising regulator disagreed with VM's "puffery" assertion and said that viewers would interpret the ad as an "objective claim".

"Because we understood that users of the service might still experience buffering, we concluded that the claim was misleading," the ASA said. "We told Virgin Media not to state or imply that users of their broadband service would not experience buffering."

It's an expensive mistake for VM, which spent a whopping £52.6m on marketing costs in its first quarter. Much of that cash was splashed on TV, print, online and billboard ads featuring Bolt wearing a fake gingery-blond beard.

Separately, the watchdog slapped Virgin Media for failing to substantiate claims it made on its website about the company's download speeds. The ASA banned the ad from appearing in its current form and ordered VM to prominently display "significant factors" such as its traffic management policy in the body copy of future adverts. ®

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