Verizon, AT&T bicker over 'best network' advertising claims

NEW YORK A panel of the National Advertising Review Board (NARB), the appellate advertising law body of BBB National Programs, has recommended that AT&T Services, Inc. clearly and conspicuously disclose its material connection to Global Wireless Solutions (GWS) when making a "Best Network" claim that is based on GWS testing. The NARB panel also recommended that AT&T discontinue the claim that AT&T is "Building 5G on America's Best Network," or state in the body of the claim that the "Best Network" referred to is AT&T's 4G network.

The advertising at issue had been challenged by Verizon Wireless, Inc. before the National Advertising Division (NAD). Following NAD's decision (Case No. 6401), AT&T appealed and Verizon cross appealed.

NARB agreed with NAD, finding that the relationship between AT&T and GWS could be material to consumers in evaluating AT&T's "Best Network" claim because AT&T in effect funds the GWS OneScore analysis each year. The panel also agreed that there are aspects of the OneScore analysis that are subjective in nature, or that require the exercise of judgment, and accordingly the OneScore results could have been affected by the relationship. The panel noted that it was not making a determination that the OneScore results are improper in any way, only that the relationship could be material to consumers in evaluating AT&T's best network claim.

With respect to the claim "Building 5G on America's Best Network," the panel determined that the "building on" reference is supported based on AT&T's investment in network hardware to upgrade its 4G network to prepare it for the 5G upgrade. However, the panel was concerned that the claim "America's Best Network" could be understood as a reference to AT&T's 5G network, which is an unsupported message.

As a result, the NARB panel recommended that AT&T discontinue the claim or state in the body that the "Best Network" referred to is AT&T's 4G network.

NARB addressed whether NAD properly declined to consider AT&T's "Best Network" claim on the merits, based on NAD's determination that it had previously evaluated the same claim in a 2019 decision and that no "extraordinary circumstances" warranted a second review of the reliability of the substantiation. The NARB panel determined that the applicable sections of the Policies and Procedures confer complete discretion on the NAD Director to determine if the circumstances warrant a reopening.

Finally, the NARB panel agreed with NAD and the advertiser that the challenged "just ok is not OK" vignettes do not address cellular service issues or refer to competitors and will not communicate any misleading message about competitor networks if the commercials are revised to comply with the other recommendations set forth in its decision.

AT&T stated that it "will comply with NARB's decision." AT&T further stated that it was pleased with several of the panel's conclusions, but noted that it respectfully disagrees with the panel's recommendation that "we either discontinue the claim or modify it to make clear that 'Best Network' refers to our 4G network based on concerns that consumers might believe 'America's Best Network' refers to our 5G network" and disagrees with the panel's conclusion "that there is a material connection between the company and Global Wireless Solutions necessitating disclosure."

BBB National Programs

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