Advertising arbiter BBB National Programs supported some of Verizon's 5G claims, but found others were 'non-actionable puffery.'

October 19, 2021

7 Min Read

NEW YORK – In the first case decided through BBB National Programs' National Advertising Division (NAD) Complex Track process, designed for truth-in-advertising issues that require complex claim substantiation, NAD determined that certain comparative performance claims for Verizon Wireless, Inc.'s 5G wireless service are supported or are non-actionable puffery.

However, NAD recommended other challenged claims be modified or discontinued, including those that overstate the benefits of 5G Ultra Wideband (5G UWB) or obscure the differences between Verizon's wireless offerings and among its service plans.

The claims, which appeared in advertising for Verizon's 5G wireless service, were challenged by T-Mobile US, Inc.

Verizon markets its 5G network with two separate names:

  • 5G UWB, which operates on the mmWave bandwidth.

  • 5G Nationwide, which utilizes low band wavelengths.

This T-Mobile challenge involved a wide range of issues relating to Verizon's advertising of its 5G offerings, including:

Static Coverage Map

T-Mobile challenged Verizon's use of a particular static coverage map on its website, which uses red to represent Verizon's 4G LTE coverage, a raised area with the same red color to represent 5G Nationwide coverage, and tall spires colored slightly darker red to represent 5G UWB. NAD determined that this map was not false or misleading when presented with a legend that delineates the image's different sections, and that the legend Verizon added to this map was clear and conspicuous and was sufficient to avoid conveying the message that the entire colored in area on the map has 5G coverage.

5G UWB and 5G Nationwide

NAD considered whether certain challenged advertisements obscure the differences between 5G Nationwide and 5G UWB and convey the misleading message that the performance benefits of 5G UWB are available when consumers are connected to Verizon's 5G Nationwide network or its 5G network generally.

NAD determined that:

  • A video advertisement featuring an animated map of the United States did not convey such a message.

  • Consumers reading the YouTube video description of the "Animated Map" advertisement could reasonably take away the unsupported message that the "unprecedented performance of 5G Ultra Wideband" is available "nationwide," and recommended that the video description be discontinued.

  • A series of commercials narrated by Verizon engineers reasonably convey the unsupported message that the touted performance benefits of 5G UWB are available throughout Verizon's 5G Network and recommended that these claims be discontinued.

  • Certain claims made on social media obscured the differences between 5G Nationwide and 5G UWB, and recommended that Verizon discontinue the following claims:

    • "Experience Verizon 5G. Now with 5G Nationwide coverage, and the unprecedented performance of 5G Ultra Wideband. #5GBuiltRight."

    • "We're turning on 5G Nationwide. And bringing the unprecedented performance of 5G Ultra Wideband to more and more cities. This is the 5G America's been waiting for."

"Fastest" 5G Claims

In a previous case, NAD determined that Verizon provided a reasonable basis for the claim that its 5G UWB, "available only in parts of select cities," provides the "fastest 5G in the world" and found that this speed claim could be made as long as there were appropriate disclosures regarding 5G UWB's availability. Here, NAD considered whether the challenged "fastest" claims, in context, communicate the unsupported message that Verizon's lowband Nationwide 5G is the "fastest 5G in the world." It concluded that such a message was not expressly or impliedly conveyed. Further, NAD determined that the challenger's evidence regarding the blended speeds of the overall 5G networks did not override Verizon's reasonable basis for its 5G UWB speed claims.

5G UWB Performance

NAD also reviewed a series of claims and advertisements that specifically highlighted the performance of Verizon's 5G UWB service, including messages conveyed by certain depictions of its usage. NAD determined that:

  • A commercial focused on the consumer experience during the 2020 Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade conveys the unsupported messages that Verizon's 5G UWB service is widely available and can be readily experienced in customer's homes. NAD recommended that Verizon discontinue the commercial and avoid conveying the unsupported message that 5G UWB is broadly available and capable of connecting families in their homes.

  • Certain elements of an advertisement featuring comedian Chris Rock reasonably convey to consumers the message that Verizon's 5G UWB would be available in their own backyard and that they could expect the same level of service as depicted in the commercial, including superior service for gaming. NAD recommended that Verizon modify:

    • its advertising to avoid conveying the misleading message that consumers can typically experience 5G UWB coverage in their backyards.

    • depictions of its download speeds to more closely resemble those achieved in its testing.

    • depictions of gameplay to avoid conveying the message that gameplay using 5G UWB is available in indoor structures and to avoid overstating the benefits its 5G UWB can provide to online gamers.

NAD also determined that Verizon's claim "This is 5G from America's most reliable network," as used in the voiceover in the "Black Friday" commercials and on the 5G landing page, conveys the implied message that Verizon's 5G network is the "most reliable" 5G network. NAD noted that although the disclaimer does disclose that the claim is based on a report comparing "4 mobile networks," it does not make clear that the results are from networks that combine 4G and 5G performance. Therefore, NAD recommended that Verizon modify this claim to clarify that "most reliable" refers to the results of tests conducted on combined networks.

Further, NAD considered the messages conveyed by Verizon's use of the term "5G Built Right" in a variety of contexts and determined that:

  • Verizon's use of the hashtag #5GBuiltRight in its social media advertising was puffery and did not require substantiation.

  • The "5G Built Right" claim, as used in the "Animated Map" commercial, was not merely puffery, but conveyed the message that only Verizon has built 5G right, and recommended that it be modified to remove any implication that only Verizon built its 5G network right, and to discontinue the implied claims that (a) Verizon's 5G network is technologically superior to its competitors' 5G networks and (b) Verizon's 5G network meets a specification for "5G" that other 5G networks do not meet.

  • The other challenged instances of "5G Built Right" were puffery.

Finally, NAD concluded that the claim "Only from Verizon," a catchphrase at the end of many of Verizon's claims, did not convey the message that Verizon is the only wireless carrier to offer 5G, or mmWave 5G; and that the claim "only on Verizon," used in one of the challenged "Black Friday" commercials, did not convey the message that only Verizon offers the iPhone 12.

Features of Entry-Level Priced Plans

T-Mobile also challenged three television commercials promoting "Black Friday" sales, which it contended misled consumers about the benefits they can obtain with Verizon's entry-level plans. NAD recommended that Verizon discontinue the following claims or modify them to ensure that consumers understand that the introductory price offer does not include the advertised features:

  • "Unlimited plans fit everyone in your family starting at just $35, with 5G included at no extra cost. Plus, you'll get the entertainment and gaming the whole family will love . . . Switch now and get $1350 off our best 5G phones. It's like a gift on top of another gift. Gifts keep coming at you. Everywhere. This is 5G from America's most reliable network."

  • "Unlimited plans start at just $35, and now iPhone 12 is on us when you switch. This is 5G from America's most reliable network."

  • "Unlimited plans start at just $35, with 5G included at no extra cost. Now get iPhone 12 on us when you switch. Only on Verizon."

In its advertiser statement, Verizon stated that it is "pleased with the decision and will comply."

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