Apple bruised by rebuke from ads watchdog over ‘misleading’ iPhone TV ads

26 Nov 2008

Complaints against Apple over misleading TV ads that promised “really fast” download speeds have been upheld by the UK’s ad industry watchdog, the Advertising Standards Authority (ASA).

Seventeen viewers complained about the TV ad for the iPhone 3G, which stated “So what’s so great about 3G? It’s what helps you get the news, really fast. Find your way, really fast. And download pretty much anything, really fast. The new iPhone 3G. The internet, you guessed it, really fast.”

The offending ad showed a close-up of the product being used to surf a news webpage, view the Google Maps service and download a file; all the actions had waiting times of only a fraction of a second. On-screen text stated “Network performance will vary by location.”

The 17 viewers complained because they felt the ads exaggerated the speed of the iPhone.

In its defence, Apple pointed out that mobile devices using 3G technology operated at substantially faster speeds, and maintained that as such the implication that the iPhone allowed downloads and internet access that was “really fast”, compared with the iPhone 2G, was not misleading.

Apple maintained that the average viewer was a mobile phone user who would have understood that a device’s performance would vary due to several factors.

It also maintained that the average viewer would understand a 30-second ad could not address every single experience of the product.

However, the ASA are not for turning on the issue, and has ruled that the ad must not appear again in its current form.

It ruled that Apple breached the CAP Broadcast TV Advertising Code rules 5.1, 5.2.1, 5.2.2 and 5.4.1, which cover misleading advertising, evidence, implications and visual techniques and special effects.

“The ASA noted Apple maintained that the ad was intended as a comparison between the older 2G technology and the newer 3G connectivity, upon which the advertised iPhone was based,” it said in its judgement.

“Although we acknowledged that the majority of viewers would be familiar with mobile telephones, we considered that many might not be fully aware of the technical differences between the different types of technology. We also noted the ad did not give an explicit indication of a comparison with the older 2G iPhone.

“We noted the voice-over claim ‘really fast’ was used in conjunction with each of the functions shown in the visuals. Although we noted the on-screen text disclaimer, ‘Network performance will vary by location’, we considered that the visuals, in conjunction with the repeated use of the claim ‘really fast’, were likely to lead viewers to believe that the device actually operated at or near to the speeds shown in the ad. Because we understood that it did not, we concluded that the ad was likely to mislead,” the ASA said.

By John Kennedy

John Kennedy is a journalist who served as editor of Silicon Republic for 17 years