SBD/July 26, 2012/Marketing and Sponsorship

Standards Agency Forces Virgin Media To Remove Usain Bolt Ads From U.K. Airways

Ad watchdog group removed this ad saying company could not live up to its message
U.K.'s advertising watchdog has banned Virgin Media's multimillion-pound TV campaign featuring Gold Medal-winning Jamaican sprinter Usain Bolt, ruling that the cable firm "could not deliver on a promise relating to superfast broadband," according to Mark Sweney of the GUARDIAN. Virgin Media's "high-profile TV campaign" consists of a series of ads featuring Bolt "mimicking" Virgin founder Richard Branson to promote its US$170M move to double broadband speed for its Internet customers. Rival Internet service provider BT submitted a complaint to the Advertising Standards Authority about one of the TV ads, which featured Bolt promising that customers could say "bye-bye to buffering and hello to a superfast broadband." A Virgin Media spokesperson said, "When one of the world's leading athletes dresses up as a world famous entrepreneur, complete with stuck-on blond beard and space helmet, and says he wants everyone to 'wave bye-bye' to buffering -- this should not be taken as an absolute claim that no Virgin Media customer will ever experience buffering ever again." Clearcast, which screens TV ad scripts for accuracy before they are made and aired, said it believed that the buffering claim was a "statement of intent" by Virgin Media to significantly improve Internet speed. The organization "did not believe that the claim was misleading" (GUARDIAN, 7/26).

MISLEADING AD: MARKETING WEEK's Sebastian Joseph reported that the ASA ruled that the ad "must not appear again in its current form." The ASA said, “Because we understood that users of the service might still experience buffering, we concluded that the claim was misleading.” The ASA warned Virgin Media not to “state or imply” that users of broadband service would not experience buffering in future campaigns (, 7/25). THE REGISTER's Kelly Fiveash wrote that this is "an expensive mistake" for Virgin Media. The company spent US$81.3M on marketing costs in its first quarter. Much of that was spent on TV, print, online and billboard ads "featuring Bolt wearing a fake gingery-blond beard." Also, the ASA slapped Virgin Media for "failing to substantiate claims it made on its website about the company's download speeds" (, 7/25).
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