T-Mobile wins some in 5G ad spat with Verizon

The great pumpkin standoff was just the latest in a series of jabs T-Mobile has made about the size of its rivals’ 5G networks. T-Mobile brought a series of complaints before the BBB National Programs’ National Advertising Division (NAD), whose rulings produced a mixed bag for the wireless carrier.

In the first case decided through NAD’s Complex Track process, certain claims about Verizon’s 5G service were deemed as either supported or “non-actionable puffery.”  

According to this NAD video, claims like “Best in the Universe” and “Absolute Greatest Ever!” are known as “puffery” because they puff up products or services and don’t require a reasonable basis in evidence the way most claims do. There’s no universal definition, but puffery is generally described as “an exaggerated, blustering or boasting statement, or a general claim that could only be understood as an expression of opinion – not a statement of fact.”

RELATED: T-Mobile swinging for the fences, winning the battle of 5G superlatives — Moore

Statements of puffery don’t require substantiation because it’s obvious to reasonable consumers that the statements are based on subjective opinion rather than facts; or the statements are sufficiently vague and impossible to measure, making it clear they’re not based in evidence, according to NAD.

Either way, puffery is not considered misleading because it does not create an expectation with consumers that the statement is verifiably true, according to Laura Brett, vice president of the BBB National Programs’ National Advertising Division.

5G Nationwide & 5G Ultrawideband

OK, enough on the puff. One of the claims brought before the NAD had to do with Verizon’s use of the terms “5G Nationwide” and “5G UWB.”

NAD considered whether certain ads obscure the differences between 5G Nationwide and 5G UWB and convey the 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.

Verizon uses the term “5G UWB” to refer to its millimeter wave-based 5G, which is only available in relatively small urban areas. Its “5G Nationwide” service uses dynamic spectrum sharing (DSS) for a coverage layer that relies on both 4G LTE and 5G and is markedly slower than 5G UWB.

NAD determined that a series of commercials narrated by Verizon engineers convey the message that the touted performance benefits of 5G UWB are available throughout Verizon’s 5G network and recommended these claims be discontinued.

NAD also reviewed a series of claims and advertisements that specifically highlighted the performance of Verizon’s 5G UWB service. 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,” the organization explained.
  • Certain elements of an ad featuring comedian Chris Rock conveyed 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 that message. 

“Most reliable” and “built right” claims

In addition, NAD determined that Verizon’s claim: “This is 5G from America’s most reliable network,” as used in the voiceover in “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 doesn’t 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. 

T-Mobile also argued that “5G Built Right” claims imply that Verizon’s 5G is technologically built in a way that is better than other networks, and that competing 5G networks are somehow built wrongly. Verizon countered that these claims are merely “puffery” and don’t convey any superiority message, according to the NAD’s decision.

The NAD determined that claims about “5G Built Right” in an animated map ad were not merely puffery but conveyed a message that only Verizon has built 5G right; NAD recommended that Verizon modify that claim. In other ads centered around this theme, NAD determined the ads were puffery; one of the tweets used a question-answer format and omitted language indicating that “only” Verizon built its 5G right.

All told, Verizon expressed to the NAD that it would comply with its decision, so apparently changes are underway if they haven’t already been done. No word on whether Verizon or AT&T is challenging T-Mobile on its portrayal in the pumpkin patch.