AT&T, Verizon Participate in NAD Forum

New York, NY – Oct. 23, 2008 – The National Advertising Division of the Council of Better Business Bureaus has recommended that AT&T Mobility LLC modify or discontinue two broadcast commercials included in the company’s “More Bars in More Places” advertising campaign. NAD determined, however, that the advertising message of superior geographic coverage, conveyed in two of the four challenged commercials, was supported by the evidence in the record.

The advertising at issue was challenged before NAD, the advertising industry’s self-regulatory forum, by Cellco Partnership, doing business as Verizon Wireless, a competing provider of wireless services.

At issue were a series of commercials that feature a protagonist who cannot receive an important cellphone or text communication because he or she is not an AT&T customer and has “zero bars” in the locations featured. A voiceover states “For the best coverage, switch to AT&T. More bars in more places.” The phrase “Best Coverage” is then displayed in large text, with a smaller disclaimer that states “based on global coverage.” 

The challenger argued that the unsupported message conveyed by each advertisement is that AT&T’s network performance, beyond geographic coverage, is superior to AT&T’s competitors. The advertiser contended that the challenged advertising touts only one feature of AT&T’s wireless network: superior geographic coverage.

NAD examined evidence that included consumer-perception surveys from both the challenger and the advertiser and determined  that each of the surveys presented demonstrated certain flaws.

NAD then determined that while the challenged commercials all convey a message related to the locations in which people can receive calls and text messages, a wireless customers might miss a call because he is outside his network’s geographic coverage area, or because he is in a location – perhaps an elevator or basement –where there is a coverage gap.

With that distinction in mind, NAD determined that two of the four commercials at issue, which feature protagonists in remote locations, conveyed claims related to network geographic coverage by AT&T, while two commercials set indoors conveyed superiority claims suggesting that AT&T provides better service than its rivals in locations where people commonly experience coverage gaps.

NAD noted in its decision that the challenger did not dispute AT&T’s superiority with respect to geographic coverage and NAD determined that AT&T provided reasonable support for the advertising claims that conveyed such a message.

However, NAD recommended the company modify or discontinue claims that suggested superior performance in areas where mobile phone users often experience problems, noting that the evidence in the record does not support such claims.

AT&T, in its advertiser’s statement, said the company is “pleased with NAD’s decision that the claims ‘More Bars in More Places’ and ‘Best Coverage’ do not by themselves convey a message of superior network performance”  and that the claims, when viewed in the context of two of the four commercials, convey a message of superior geographic coverage.

AT&T noted that the company “respectfully disagrees” with NAD’s findings regarding two of its four commercials. However, the company said, it will take NAD’s finding into account in future advertising.