NAD Recommends Sprint Discontinue Certain Claims Made to Promote ‘Sprint Unlimited’ Following Verizon Challenge

New York, NY – March 5, 2018 – The National Advertising Division has recommended that Sprint Corp., discontinue certain express and implied claims for the company’s Sprint Unlimited service, including claims that Sprint offers a better overall “unlimited” experience and performance than Verizon’s Unlimited Service and that Verizon shortchanges customers by enticing them sign up for its unlimited service and then providing them with lower network speeds.

NAD is an investigative unit of the advertising industry’s system of self-regulation. It is administered by the Council of Better Business Bureaus.

Sprint’s advertising aimed to promote an “unlimited” service that offered an introductory cost of $22.50 per month per line for four lines, compared to Verizon, which offered an introductory rate of $45 per line for four lines.

Verizon challenged claims made in internet advertising and three television commercials– “Draggin’ Maggie,” “Doug,” and “Twice the Price Store.”

The following express and implied claims served as the basis for NAD’s inquiry:

  • Verizon’s network has been slowing down since it began offering unlimited data services.
  • Sprint’s cellular network has “more spectrum for the future” than Verizon’s cellular network.
  • Verizon’s unlimited plan costs “twice as much” as Sprint Unlimited.
  • “If you’re already here paying twice as much for [Verizon’s] unlimited plan, why not hop on over and waste your money with us, too?”
  • Verizon’s cellular phone services are “twice the price” of Sprint’s.
  • Sprint Unlimited offers a better overall “unlimited” experience and performance than Verizon’s unlimited Service.
  • Sprint Unlimited provides faster speeds than Verizon’s unlimited service.
  • Verizon shortchanges its customers by enticing consumers to sign up for its unlimited service and then providing them with lower network speeds.
  • Verizon’s network does not have the capacity to support high-quality unlimited service and to meet future demands.
  • Verizon’s unlimited plan costs twice as much as Sprint Unlimited, regardless of the number of lines and its cellular phone services, in general, cost twice as much as Sprint’s.

In “Draggin’ Maggie,” a Verizon customer – Maggie –  is seen trudging uphill. Her sweater is “hooked” to a giant version of Verizon’s red checkmark logo which is, in turn, connected to a set of enormous letters reading “UNLIMITED,” which mimic the logo and font used in Verizon’s “unlimited” advertisements. An observer, sitting on a Sprint bench, tells Maggie that Sprint’s network, by contrast, is built for unlimited, with more spectrum for the future.”

To her apparent relief, the man cuts the rope tethering Maggie to the Verizon checkmark and “UNLIMITED” plan.

The spot concludes with the voiceover, “Don’t get hooked by Verizon.  Switch to Sprint Unlimited and pay half what you pay with Verizon for a family of four … .”

NAD concluded that the visuals and dialogue of the “Draggin’ Maggie” commercial resulted in an overall net impression that Sprint Unlimited provides a superior overall experience than that of Verizon Unlimited – specifically that Verizon Unlimited is exceedingly slow, oppressive and restrictive – indeed, something from which Sprint Unlimited can liberate the consumer.

Sprint pointed to its price, billing, comparative HD streaming capabilities, high-speed data for mobile hotspot use and other aspects of service as well as an industry publication’s opinion that Verizon’s network, is “no longer a clear standout…,” as support. NAD, however, found the advertiser’s evidence insufficient to support such an overly broad comparative superior consumer experience claim.

NAD found that the “Doug” commercial conveyed the overly broad and unsupported message that all of Verizon’s Unlimited plans, indeed, all its cellular services, cost twice as much as Sprint’s – a claim unsupported by the record.

NAD determined that at least one reasonable interpretation of the “Twice the Price Store” commercial was that Sprint’s services will always be half the price of a comparable Verizon service or plan – regardless of the number of lines to which one subscribes – claims that NAD determined were unsupported by the evidence in the record.

NAD concluded that the commercial “Draggin’ Maggie” clearly and conspicuously qualified the “twice the price” message to make clear that it referred to the parties’ respective four-line unlimited plans.  However, NAD concluded that the disclosures, in the context in which they appeared in the “Doug” and “Twice the Price Store” commercials, were inadequate to properly limit Sprint’s “twice the price’ claims to a comparison of Sprint and Verizon’s unlimited four-line plans recommended they be discontinued.

NAD recommended that Sprint discontinue express and implied claims that Sprint Unlimited offers a better overall “unlimited” experience and performance than Verizon’s Unlimited Service; that Sprint Unlimited provides faster speeds than Verizon’s unlimited service; that Verizon shortchanges its customers by enticing consumers to sign up for its unlimited service and then providing them with lower network speeds, and that Verizon’s network does not have the capacity to support high-quality unlimited service and to meet future.

NAD further recommended that Sprint discontinue claims that Verizon’s download speeds have slowed down due to the introduction of Verizon’s Unlimited plans.  With regard to the claim, “Sprint’s Network is built for unlimited … with more spectrum for the future,” NAD recommended that the advertiser discontinue its claim in the comparative context in which it is presented.  However, nothing in NAD’s decision precludes the advertiser from making the same claim in a stand-alone context.

Finally, NAD recommended that the advertiser’s claim that consumers are “wasting their money” with Verizon be discontinued.

Sprint, in its advertiser’s statement, said the company would comply with NAD’s recommendation.

“While Sprint respectfully disagrees that the independent, third-party data it provided was insufficient to support its claim that there was a slowdown in Verizon’s download speeds in the period following the introduction of Verizon’s unlimited plan, Sprint will take NAD’s guidance into account when using all available data sources, including crowd-sourced speed test data, for future advertising,” the company said.

Note: A recommendation by NAD 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.