The Advertising Regulatory Board has ruled against Vodacom for not clearly stating that its best network claims are not based on objective network quality tests.
To fully understand the reason and impact of this ruling, we have to look at what happened over the past few years.
There has been a fierce battle between Vodacom and MTN regarding which operator can lay claim to the title of “Best Network in South Africa”.
For many years Vodacom had the best network, which was confirmed by objective network tests by MyBroadband, Ookla, and P3 Communications.
Vodacom relied on these objective network tests to back its best network claims, and often used these measures to force MTN to withdraw similar claims.
Over the last eighteen months, however, the tables were turned. MTN significantly increased its network investment and overtook Vodacom in network performance and 4G coverage.
Vodacom changes tactics
Instead of stopping to make this claim, Vodacom decided to change its “best network” definition to ensure its lagging network performance does not affect it.
The company told MyBroadband that its latest best network claims are based on a “combination of factors including speed scores, coverage, customer satisfaction, and brand recognition”.
The company started to use survey results from the South African Customer Satisfaction Index (SAcsi) to substantiate its claim.
Instead of real-world network tests, the SAcsi results are based on “quality perceptions of technology components, products, services, and operations of the mobile networks”.
It is also using the Sunday Times’ Top Brand awards, which has nothing to do with network performance, to substantiate its “Best Network” claim.
Best network claim and speed
In response to questions about the company changing its “best network” metrics, Vodacom said the “best network” claim cannot simply be limited to a single factor such as speed.
This is strange, considering Vodacom used speed – and speed alone – for many years to claim to have the best network.
On multiple occasions, Vodacom used speed test data from MyBroadband and Ookla in Advertising Standards Authority of South Africa (ASA) complaints to show that it has the “best network”.
Vodacom told MyBroadband that it now focuses on the “total customer experience – great performance, widest range, choice and above all, service excellence”.
“Vodacom relies upon various different industry sources to assess its fulfilment of these criteria,” the company said.
Ruling against Vodacom
The Advertising Regulatory Board (ARB), which was formed after the Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) closed, now ruled that Vodacom is in the wrong.
According to the ruling, Vodacom failed to comply with a previous ruling which stated it could not make its “best network” claims without clearly stating it is not based on objective network tests.
Over the past few years, Vodacom informed subscribers that it had the best network based on network performance tests, and it is not clearly stated that this has changed.
“Vodacom misleadingly perpetuated the impression that it offered the best service in terms of objectively assessed network quality,” the ruling stated.
Judge Bernard Ngoepe from the Final Appeals Committee of the ARB said “coming up with all sorts of new disclaimers still fail to comply with the previous ruling”.
“Had the previous been a Court Order, Vodacom would have been in real peril of being convicted of contempt of court,” Ngoepe said.
Vodacom was ordered to comply with the previous order and pay the cost of the breach complaint.
Vodacom’s best network claims
The images below show Vodacom’s latest marketing campaigns regarding its network.