Cox on losing end of broadband ad spat

As network engineers stay busy trying to stay a step ahead of their broadband competition, marketers at cable ops and telcos continue to find themselves at the center of scrums tied to the way they advertise their respective broadband services.

Among a recent wave of advertising-related complaints involving broadband and mobile operators, Cox Communications has been urged to discontinue an "implied superior reliability claim" in ads touting its Internet service, according to the National Advertising Division (NAD).

The recommendation stems from a challenge by AT&T about ads that convey that broadband services from competing services are "glitchy and unreliable, but Cox Internet is not," NAD explained.

(Source: Kristoffer Tripplaar/Alamy Stock Photo)
(Source: Kristoffer Tripplaar/Alamy Stock Photo)

AT&T's complaint targeted TV ads for Cox's "Gigablast" service that delivers download speeds up to 1 Gbit/s and upload speeds up to 35 Mbit/s. The ads didn't directly identify AT&T, but depicted the failure of an "unnamed, generic competing service" to reliably stream a baseball game.

NAD said the ads, in part, conveyed a broad implied message of superior reliability for Cox Internet over its rivals. The ads, the organization explained, argue that the reason for a failure is due to the consumer picking the "wrong" Internet provider. That, NAD added, could lead consumers to reasonably conclude that the experience is typical and that the "wrong" Internet service refers to any competing provider.

The organization said it concluded that Cox Internet "did not provide evidence to support a broad message of comparative superiority over all other providers or any specific message that other internet providers are insufficient for the streaming activity depicted in the commercial." It also said AT&T provided evidence that it and other Internet service providers offer speeds sufficient for "routine streaming, as well as speeds above that which is recommended for 4K content (50-100 Mbps and higher)."

In response to the recommendation, Cox said it disagreed with NAD's interpretation of the ads at issue, but will take its recommendations into consideration in future advertising.

A wave of ad messaging battles

This latest ad-related dust-up is just one of several to surface in recent weeks and months as cable operators and telcos battle for broadband share in a slowing subscriber market. Some recent examples:

  • In a different ad fight between Cox and AT&T, NAD ruled that Cox had a "reasonable claim" to use "gig speed everywhere" messaging for its Gigablast-branded service. However, NAD suggested that Cox avoid using an unsupported implied message that AT&T does not offer similar or faster speeds than 5G providers in markets where Cox and AT&T compete.
  • T-Mobile was urged to stop certain claims regarding how its home Internet service compares to the National FCC Broadband Rate Benchmark – a complaint that originated with Charter Communications.
  • Charter and T-Mobile also locked horns over T-Mobile's "no data caps" claim, with NAD ruling in T-Mobile's favor.
  • T-Mobile also came out on top in an ad-related complaint centered on speeds and pricing for Comcast's 5G unlimited mobile plans.

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— Jeff Baumgartner, Senior Editor, Light Reading

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