TalkTalk’s adverts claiming to offer the “UK’s safest broadband” have been found to be in breach of the Committee of Advertising Practice (CAP) and Broadcast Committee of Advertising Practice (BCAP) Code. Although TalkTalk intended the claim to relate only to connections between the telephone network and router, the fact that its HomeSafe service only provided basic security between the router and computer led the Advertising Standards Authority to find a breach of CAP and BCAP rules relating to misleading advertising, substantiation, and other comparisons.
This adjudication demonstrates how differences in the interpretation of terms affect the integrity of adverts and their claims. In this particular case, TalkTalk believed that its “UK’s safest broadband” claim would be taken to refer to the internet connection from telephone network to router. However, the ASA considered that customers would understand “broadband” to also include the wireless connection from router to computer.
A TV advert featured a toy family in a dolls house, guarded by a row of toy soldiers. The voice-over said, “TalkTalk homes have the UK’s safest broadband thanks to HomeSafe”.
A poster stated: “The UK’s safest broadband is now £3.25 a month” and “Includes HomeSafe, the UK’s first and only network level security”.
A national press advert stated: “The UK’s safest broadband £3.25 a month... Our ground-breaking new security service, HomeSafe, is free to all customers.”
BT and two members of the public challenged whether the claim “UK’s safest broadband” was misleading.
TalkTalk said the claim “UK’s safest broadband” was based on it being the only home broadband provider in the United Kingdom to apply security features at the network level. It also said that the claim related specifically to the safety of the broadband connection at the point of entry to the home, and that it was not claiming to provide the safest online experience in the United Kingdom.
Clearcast, the organisation that ensures the BCAP-compliance of television adverts, said it believed the claim that TalkTalk had the “safest broadband” was justified as the in-built network level security feature was unique to TalkTalk and stopped viruses and inappropriate content from reaching customers’ homes. In Clearcast’s opinion, HomeSafe could be described as “safer” than packages offered by other broadband providers, which required the customer to apply security to each device individually.
The ASA accepted that, unlike other broadband providers, which supply security packages via a download, TalkTalk offered a security feature at the point of entry to the home. However, it considered that, contrary to TalkTalk’s belief, customers would understand “broadband” to include the wireless connection from the router to the computer, as well as the internet connection from the telephone network to the router.
The ASA considered that the claim “UK’s safest broadband” implied that customers would enjoy the safest online experience when using TalkTalk broadband. Because HomeSafe only offered a basic range of security features, excluding virus and hacking protection, the ASA said that TalkTalk was unable to substantiate the claim.
Of the poster advert, the ASA made the point that the word “includes” implied wrongly that the product described was only part of a fuller package. Of the press advert, the ASA said it did not make clear that the claim was based on TalkTalk being the only provider of network level security, nor did it provide any details of the features provided by HomeSafe.
As such, the ASA found the TV advert in breach of BCAP Codes Rules 3.1 (Misleading advertising), 3.9 (Substantiation) and 3.38 (Other comparisons) and the other two adverts in breach of CAP Code rules 3.1 (Misleading advertising), 3.7 (Substantiation) and 3.38 (Other comparisons).
It seems that the claim as conceived by TalkTalk lost something in translation once received as an advertising message by the average consumer. The adjudication demonstrates that advertisers should use precise terms in their adverts and qualify potentially ambiguous terms, particularly those of a technical nature such as “broadband”. One way of removing any doubt surrounding the claim is to provide details of the features of the service or product being offered.