NARB Recommends AT&T Discontinue Comparative Reliability Claim in its “Historic Launch” Commercial, Following Comcast Challenge

New York, NY – Aug. 12, 2019 – A panel of the National Advertising Review Board (NARB) has found that an AT&T Services Inc. television commercial (the “Historic Launch”) conveys an unsupported claim that with over 99% reliability, its services are superior compared to at least one viable competitive service, and recommended that the message be discontinued.

The advertising at issue had been challenged by Comcast Cable Communications, LLC before the National Advertising Division (NAD).  The NAD is an investigative unit of the advertising industry’s system of self-regulation and is a division of the BBB NP’s self-regulatory and dispute resolution programs.  In its decision, NAD considered whether, as argued by AT&T, the Historic Launch commercial was monadic and merely touted that AT&T’s U-Verse Internet and DirecTV have greater than 99% reliability or whether, as argued by Comcast, the challenged commercial conveys comparative superiority claims even though no competitors are expressly identified.  NAD found that the challenged commercial communicated the implied comparative messages that AT&T’s television and internet services are more reliable than cable, cable offers unreliable entertainment, and cable viewers frequently lose service.  In the absence of any support offered by AT&T, NAD recommended that said messages be discontinued. Following the NAD’s decision, AT&T appealed this recommendation to the NARB, the appellate unit of the advertising industry’s system of self-regulation.

The NARB panel agreed with NAD’s determination that the Historic Launch commercial is comparative in nature.  The panel concluded that, at a minimum, the commercial conveys to reasonable consumers a message that with over 99% reliability, the AT&T services are superior compared to at least one viable competitive service.  A central focus of the commercial is the failure of a third-party service, which leads to the individuals gathered together in front of a television screen and a computer to miss the “historic launch.”  The panel noted that the voiceover reinforces this comparative communication with the statement “Life is too short for unreliable entertainment. Get AT&T . . .”  Further, the characterization of the competitive service having failed “again” ensures that the message is one of comparative superiority – that AT&T’s reliability avoids problems consumers have with other services.

Although the NARB panel did not agree with NAD that the challenged commercial necessarily implies a comparison to competing cable services, given that AT&T did not offer any support for the message that its services are more reliable than a viable competitor (whether or not cable), the panel agreed with NAD in concluding that the commercial conveyed a comparative superiority message which was unsupported, and recommended that it be discontinued.

AT&T stated that it will comply with NARB’s findings. AT&T added that, while it “disagrees with NARB’s conclusion that the Historic Launch commercial communicated any comparative message,” and notes that the commercial had been permanently discontinued prior to Comcast’s challenge, it will take NARB’s recommendations into consideration when developing future advertising.

Note: A recommendation by NAD or NARB to modify or discontinue a claim is not a finding of wrongdoing and an advertiser’s voluntary discontinuance or modification of claims should not be construed as an admission of impropriety. It is the policy of NAD not to endorse any company, product, or service. Decisions finding that advertising claims have been substantiated should not be construed as endorsements.