The 2015 Worst UK Home Broadband ISPs for Advertising Complaints - ISPreview UK
Some home broadband ISPs are clearly worse than others when it comes to “misleading” promotions of their products and services. So, as we prepare to bid farewell to another year, takes a quick look back over the past 12 months to see which providers suffered the most bans for bad advertising.

The United Kingdom’s aggressively competitive broadband market perhaps understandably fosters a rich variety of funny, clever and sometimes even ingenious marketing campaigns, which reach us through the TV, newspapers, websites, magazines, postal deliveries and various other methods.

Most of this advertising is fair play and will keep within the rules, but in the race to grab customers some of it can go a little too far and that usually prompts complaint to the Advertising Standards Authority (most of the time these come from consumers, but the big ISPs also get involved in tit-for-tat complaints).

The ASA’s job in all this is to ensure that companies don’t mislead consumers with what they promote and to ban promotions when their rules are breached, although by the time they get around to banning an advert then the promotion has often already finished and thus the impact is a lot less costly.

Top of the Worst – 2015 Broadband Advertising

Historically one of the worst performers on this front has been cable operator Virgin Media, which hit a peak in 2012 when they were scalded by the BBC’s consumer affairs TV show, Watchdog, via a comically damning assessment of the 25 adverts that had been banned (here).

Since then VM has tried hard to improve, receiving fewer and few complaints each year. Never the less they still came top of the worst in our first annual study of advertising naughtiness (here), which last year saw them rack up a total of 8 major ban reports. So have they done any better this year? Let’s find out.

NOTE: A score of 1 in this table typically reflects a single ASA report that has progressed to a formal investigation, although each report may contain bans against several adverts across different mediums for the same ISP (usually a report will tend to focus on a common / shared issue, but sometimes they do spread into other areas).

The Worst ISP for Home Broadband Advertising

1. TalkTalk
– Score: 3 (Complaints: here, here, here)
2. BT – Score: 3 (Complaints: here, here, here)
3. (Tied) Virgin Media – Score: 2 (Complaints: here, here)
3. (Tied) Sky Broadband – Score: 2 (Complaints: here, here)

No doubt this is one table that Virgin Media will be pleased not to have won, with TalkTalk and BT collecting the most ban reports from the ASA for 2015. Mind you the previous year (2014) saw TalkTalk come second with 5 ban reports, thus their status as a contender for the top spot was already well established.

At this point it’s important to note that the industry has seen some strong improvement over the past few years, which we’d like to think is partly because of how and others now give greater coverage to advertising fails.

However it should be said that the ASA also has another category for Informally Resolved Cases, which are complaints that the ASA upholds but where providers “agreed to amend or withdraw advertising without the need for a formal investigation“. Sadly we do not get a report for these, but we can tally up a total for the upheld complaints (excluding complaints against non-telecoms services). The results are less than rosy.

The Worst ISPs (Biggest Six ISPs Only) – Informally Resolved Complaints

1. BT
– Score: 19
2. TalkTalk – Score: 15
3. EE – Score: 17
4. Virgin Media – Score: 11
5. PlusNet – Score: 5
6. Sky Broadband – Score: 1

Unsurprisingly there are some who feel as if the advertising watchdog still isn’t being tough enough on repeated rule breakers and one way to start would be to publish more details of their Informally Resolved Cases, especially since ISPs have now become wise to the advantages of keeping such things under the radar by using this approach.

The ASA does also have legal backstop powers, which can be used against repeat offenders, although in practice we’ve yet to see any examples of this being used against naughty ISPs; despite some providers racking up significantly more bans than others. Generally the ASA prefers to resolve such disputes without resorting to tougher measures, but they have recently promised to put more effort into particularly big cases.

Lord Chris Smith, Chairman of the ASA, said:

We’ve been putting some serious thought into how we go about working as effectively as possible, with the interests of the consumer in mind. As part of that, we want to put a stronger focus on those cases where there is the greatest potential detriment or harm. By having more impact and being more proactive we can help provide a responsible framework for advertisers to continue to engage creatively with their customers.”
On the surface this year’s result suggests that consumers aren’t running into as many misleading broadband ISP based promotions as before and that’s surely a good thing, although equally it may mean that providers have simply worked out that they can escape a public slapping by agreeing to remove or amend ads at the first hint of a complaint.
Comment: I can see the headlines already... Ofcom starts teething in 2116.