The Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) has ruled that Three’s Muppet-themed ad, featuring a character victoriously punching into the air, which claimed that the mobile company was the ‘undisputed’ market leader in terms of network reliability, can no longer be shown in its current form.

In addition to a complaint made by a member of the public, mobile rival EE complained that the ad’s strapline “The Undisputed. UK’s most reliable network. Again.” was misleading and challenged Three to substantiate such claim.

Three’s claim was based on a YouGov report in which it had come top in five consecutive quarters in a comparison about network reliability. Since there is no industry-standard test for reliability, Three considered that the best way to obtain data was to ask the consumers themselves.

The ASA ruled that because the ad did not make clear that the ‘undisputed network reliability’ claim was based on subjective consumer opinions, viewers of the ad may believe that the claim is based on “robust objective measures”. As a result, the ad was likely to mislead and could not be substantiated.

The ad was found to have breached CAP Code rules concerning misleading advertising, substantiation, qualification and comparisons with identifiable competitors. Additionally, the mobile network was told by the ASA “not to state or imply that Three was the UK’s most reliable network unless they made clear that the claim was based solely on a survey of consumer opinions”.

The ruling should prompt advertisers to remember to substantiate each claim with objective evidence and to make the basis of such claim and substantiation clear to consumers. While it is not uncommon to come across this type of inter-competitors complaint in the telecoms industry, given the ASA ruling comes seven months after the Muppet ad was originally published, the ruling is only likely to affect future campaigns.