In its Adjudication on Orange Personal Communications Services Ltd (30 June 2010), the Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) said that Orange's claim that its 3G network reached more people than competitors' networks could not be substantiated because it did not make clear whether it was referring to population or geographical coverage and because Orange could not show that the coverage data it had supplied for its competitors' networks was collected and reported on the same basis as its own.

THE COMPLAINT

An advertisement for Orange mobile broadband included the claim "The Orange 3G network covers more people in the United Kingdom than any other operator.” Hutchison 3G UK Ltd challenged whether this claim could be substantiated, because it believed that it had the largest 3G network in the United Kingdom, based on population coverage.

RESPONSE

Orange said the claim was based on population coverage as opposed to geographical coverage. It explained that most 3G mobile networks published their own population coverage statistics and that those showed the Orange 3G network covered 93.39 per cent of the UK population, with Hutchinson 3G UK covering 91 per cent. It did acknowledge, however, that Hutchison 3G UK had the largest geographical coverage.

Orange said that its own population coverage percentages were calculated based on a combination of in-house tools and recognised public domain population-to-location information and that the claim was capable of objective substantiation.

THE DECISION

The ASA noted that Orange had intended the claim to be a population coverage claim. However, the ASA considered that the claim was ambiguous because Orange did not make clear whether it was referring to Orange covering more people in the places where they lived (population coverage), or more people in the United Kingdom, wherever they might be using their 3G mobile device (geographical coverage). The ASA referred to Ofcom-issued UK geographical coverage maps for the five major mobile networks, which showed that Orange did not have the greatest geographical coverage.

The ASA said that each 3G network had its own approach to substantiation and verification of coverage claims, meaning that methodologies were not comparable directly. Because Orange had not shown that the data it had supplied for its competitors was collected and reported on the same basis as its own, it considered that the claim had not been substantiated.

As such, the ASA concluded that the ad was likely to mislead and found that it breached CAP Code Clauses 3.1 (Substantiation), 7.1 (Truthfulness) and 19.1 (Other comparisons).

COMMENT

When using comparative advertising, one crucial thing to remember is that using claims that are not based on directly comparable measurement and reporting methods will more often than not scupper any chance of those claims being accepted as adequately substantiated. Equally, ambiguous claims that do not make clear the basis of the comparison, especially where there are significant variables attached to the claim, will be considered misleading and not allowed.