The Better Business Bureau’s (BBB) National Advertising Review Board (NARB) has taken the two largest US mobile operators, Verizon and AT&T, to task for a number of misleading advertising and marketing campaigns recently. In the case of Verizon, NARB in January 2020 called out a ‘paid real customer story’ in which a dancer rehearsed on a New York City underground subway train using a mobile signal supposedly streamed using Verizon’s network. This gave viewers the erroneous impression that Verizon provides effective streaming in underground mass transit systems across the country.

NARB investigates 5G ad campaigns

In December 2019, NARB chastised Verizon for its dubious ‘first to 5G’ claims. It called out slogans such as ‘For the first time ever, 5G is now in your hands’ as misleading. That’s because, while NARB found that Verizon’s claim to have offered the first mobile wireless 5G service is technically true, the company’s 5G coverage is extremely limited to a handful of corridors within the cities it now claims as 5G cities. In a similar vein, NARB also took the operator to task for another commercial. This showed children on a school bus playing a multiplayer game, despite the fact that the school bus would be within the coverage area of a 5G signal for extremely limited periods of time, if at all. Verizon has agreed to provide greater disclosures within the ads.

Recommendations under appeal

It’s worth noting that, in both incidents, the underlying complaints were made by Verizon’s chief rival, AT&T. Unfortunately, AT&T has also been called out by NARB for its misleading 5G claims. Specifically, NARB concluded in December that AT&T’s use of the ‘5G Evolution’ term gives customers the false impression that it is using 5G technology or, at the very least, a level of technology above 4G LTE. As a result, NARB recommended that AT&T discontinue using both the ‘5G Evolution’ moniker and the ‘5G Evolution, the First Step to 5G’ claim.  Unlike Verizon, however, AT&T has indicated it plans to appeal NARB’s recommendations.

More complaints may be on the way

It’s also worth noting that the complaint against AT&T was lodged by yet a third mobile operator, T-Mobile, which introduced its own 5G network in December. It’s also worth noting that T-Mobile currently claims it offers ‘the only nationwide 5G’ despite the fact that it only covers about two-thirds of the U.S. population. One of its competitors may already be working on a complaint to NARB for the latest exaggerated 5G claim.

The BBB website says:

Note: A recommendation by NAD or NARB to modify or discontinue a claim is not a finding of wrongdoing and an advertiser’s voluntary discontinuance or modification of claims should not be construed as an admission of impropriety. It is the policy of NAD and NARB not to endorse any company, product, or service. Decisions finding that advertising claims have been substantiated should not be construed as endorsements.

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