Sprint should put some limits on its “unlimited” claims, the National Advertising Division (NAD) recommended in a new decision.
Competitor Verizon challenged Sprint’s advertising for its unlimited plan, particularly its television commercials. The “Draggin’ Maggie” ad depicts a Verizon customer whose sweater has been hooked to a giant version of Verizon’s logo, which in turn is connected to a set of enormous letters reading “UNLIMITED.” Maggie struggles to drag the words up a hill while a man on a nearby bench states, “Yikes, looks like you got hooked by Verizon. Since they started hooking people with ‘unlimited,’ have you noticed them slowing down at all? Are you feeling the drag?”
Maggie responds: “Now that you mention it …” The man replies, “Sprint’s network is built for unlimited, with more spectrum for the future.” He then cuts the rope tethering Maggie to the Verizon logo, which rolls downhill. She says, “Ahhh, thank you. Works for me,” and the ad concludes with a voice-over stating, “Don’t get hooked by Verizon. Switch to Sprint [u]nlimited and pay half what you pay with Verizon for a family of four.”
A second commercial emphasized that Verizon charges twice as much for a family-of-four plan, featuring the “Twice the Price Store,” which the proprietor states is “conveniently located right next to Verizon. If you’re already here paying twice as much for their unlimited plan, why not hop on over and waste your money with us too?”
Verizon argued that the advertising conveyed the inaccurate message that Sprint unlimited is faster and offers a superior overall experience than Verizon at half the price.
Reviewing the overall net impression of the “Draggin’ Maggie” ad, the NAD concluded that the visuals and dialogue provided a message that Sprint unlimited offers a superior overall experience than that of Verizon unlimited, and that Verizon’s is exceedingly slow, oppressive and restrictive.
In support of the claim, Sprint pointed to its price, billing, comparative HD streaming capabilities, high-speed data for mobile hotspot use and other aspects of service. “However, whatever claim such evidence may or may not support, NAD concluded that it is insufficient to support such an overly broad comparative superior consumer experience claim,” the NAD wrote.
The message that consumers are being “hooked” by Verizon reasonably conveys that “Verizon is intentionally enticing consumers with a promise of a level of speed and service that it is incapable of delivering—a message that, however humorously depicted, is falsely denigrating,” the self-regulatory body added. “The message reasonably conveyed by Sprint’s advertisement is that Verizon ‘hooks’ consumers with promises of high performance which it fails to deliver, a message which is not supported by the evidence in the record.”
The NAD also reiterated that crowdsourced data is insufficiently reliable to provide a reasonable basis for the claim that Verizon’s download speeds have slowed since the introduction of its unlimited plans.
As the NAD found the “overall context” of the “Draggin’ Maggie” commercial was comparative, Sprint’s reference to its spectrum holdings to convey the message it can support future demands for high-quality unlimited service should be discontinued. Nothing precluded the advertiser from making the same claim in a monadic context, but the advertiser could not support the reasonable takeaway that Verizon is not equipped for the present, let alone the future, needs of customers with unlimited service.
Turning to Sprint’s “Twice the Price” advertising, the NAD found the advertiser failed to adequately limit its claims to the parties’ respective four-line family plans. In the “Twice the Price Store” commercial, “the net impression … is that everything sold at this store costs twice as much as it should—or in the case of the parties, that every Verizon service costs twice the price as a comparable service (unlimited or otherwise) from Sprint,” the NAD wrote.
Other than “a small portion of the final art card at the very end of the spot,” the ad featured no exceptions or qualifications. “Accompanied by distracting moving images, singing, drumbeat, moving characters, and following an entire commercial stating that ‘everything’ in this Verizon look-alike store costs ‘twice the price’ than it should (or that it does at Sprint), the disclosure at the end was woefully insufficient to limit the ‘twice the price’ message to the respective prices of the parties’ four-line unlimited plans,” according to the decision. “Lastly, NAD determined that Sprint’s claim that consumers are ‘wasting’ their money with Verizon crosses the line into false denigration.”
To read the NAD’s press release about the decision, click here.
Why it matters: The NAD recommended that Sprint discontinue comparative express and implied claims that it offers a better overall “unlimited” experience and performance and provides faster speeds than Verizon’s unlimited service. Sprint agreed to comply with the self-regulatory body’s recommendations and take into account for future advertising the NAD’s position on crowdsourced speed data.