Verizon, Sprint Participate in NAD Forum

New York, NY – Nov.  5, 2008 – The National Advertising Division of the Council of Better Business Bureaus has recommended that Verizon Services Corp. modify or discontinue certain broadcast advertising claims for the company’s push-to-talk service.

 The claims at issue were challenged before NAD, the advertising industry’s self-regulatory forum, by Sprint Nextel, a competing provider of push-to-talk (PTT) technology products. NAD examined express claims that included:

  • “We all upgraded to Verizon Wireless. Got push to talk and the reliability of the network.  That old service is useless now.” 
  • “Don’t be the last one standing with another push to talk.  Switch to the only one that comes with the network.”
  • “Hello? Anyone there? Why am I always getting disconnected? … I gotta get something better.” 
  • “Are you suffering with a push to talk phone that drops the ball on regular calls?  Don’t push your luck with your push to talk.  Make the switch to Verizon Wireless and the reliability of the network.”

 Implied claims at issue included:

  • Sprint Nextel’s push-to-talk service is useless or of little to no value when compared to the Verizon Wireless push-to-talk service.
  • Sprint Nextel’s push-to-talk service currently does not work or does not work as represented.
  • The number of subscribers to Sprint Nextel’s push-to-talk service is declining at such a rate that it is and will be of little to no value to subscribers who expect and need to connect with a network of other push-to-talk users.
  • Sprint Nextel’s push-to-talk service is on a network that repeatedly disconnects consumers’ calls and the network is unreliable on regular and push-to-talk calls.
  • Sprint Nextel’s push-to-talk network will soon be discontinued.

The challenged television commercial features a construction worker wearing a yellow hard hat and holding a clunky, older-looking, yellow and black PTT phone.  He attempts to use it, and the audience hears an empty “click, click” sound.  A fellow construction worker (wearing a red Verizon Wireless hard hat), drives by, holds up a more modern-looking PTT phone, and states “We all upgraded to Verizon Wireless. Got push to talk and the reliability of the network.  That old service is useless now.” 

The narrator closes the commercial with “Don’t be the last one standing with another push to talk.  Switch to the only one that comes with the network” as the camera pans across a large group of people – including the iconic “Can You Here Me Now? character – representing Verizon Wireless’ voice and data network.

 In the challenged radio commercial, which also takes place in a construction setting, a worker using a faulty PTT phone is trying unsuccessfully to arrange a delivery and complaining that the phone does not work.  He states “Hello? Anyone there? Why am I always getting disconnected?… I gotta get something better.”  The narrator adds, “Are you suffering with a push to talk phone that drops the ball on regular calls?  Don’t push your luck with your push to talk.  Make the switch to Verizon Wireless and the reliability of the network.”

At the outset, the challenger asserted that it is by far the most well-known service provider of PTT services, making it highly likely that reasonable consumers understand the advertiser’s comparison as being directed to Sprint Nextel’s services.

Further, the challenger noted, its market position demonstrates the degree to which consumers identify PTT services with the challenger’s services – fully 82 percent of consumers who make use of PTT services do so on the challenger’s phones.

Following its review of the challenged advertising, NAD concluded that the broadcast commercials, both expressly and by implication, conveyed the unsupported messages that the challenger’s “old service is useless now”, that Verizon’s push-to-talk service was, by itself, superior to the challenger’s push-to-talk service, that subscribers were leaving the challenger’s service in droves rendering that service “useless”, and that the challenger’s push-to-talk service was being decommissioned or was soon to be discontinued. NAD recommended that these claims be discontinued. 

The advertiser, NAD determined, is free to tout the message that PTT product/service is the only one that is accompanied by a separate wireless (regular call) service which comes with “the reliability of the network.”

However, NAD recommended the advertiser better structure future advertising so that when promoting both its PTT service and it’s “network”, in future advertising, that it clearly and expressly clarify to which service “the reliability of the network” applies.

Verizon, in its advertiser’s statement, said that it relied on previous NAD decisions in crafting the advertising at issue and “believed that the claims made in the advertising that was the subject of this challenge were adequately supported.”

The company noted that the advertising at issue in the challenge “has been discontinued by Verizon Wireless as part of the normal course of its business.  We will take the NAD’s comments into consideration in the development of our future advertising.”