It is now six months since the new guidelines for how the word 'unlimited' can be used in broadband advertising and product promotion were published, the long gap was to give broadband providers chance to slowly adjust their advertising and product site wording. Now it is 1st April 2012 the new rules are live and apply to claims of 'unlimited'.
The Help Note published to assist providers highlights that these changes apply to marketing communications for fixed or mobile telephony and data, and includes services such as VoIP. The overall summary of the new rules is that 'unlimited' is probably acceptable even if subject to provider-imposed sanctions so long as these sanctions do not restrict or limit the service that is outside the average consumer's expectations of an 'unlimited' service.
The big unknown is what is an average consumer's expectation, for fixed line broadband, where average usage is 17GB, we would hazard a guess that a user consuming 6TB a month might just be considered outside the average, the question is where does the actual line sit. Alas there are no guideline figures provided by the ASA or BCAP.
We may see more references to 'unlimited web browsing' rather than 'unlimited broadband' since the latter requires the whole service to be unlimited, and thus any P2P usage level triggers that are particularly harsh may fall foul of the rule. The help note does warn advertisers that the phrase 'web browsing' would also cover streaming services like YouTube, BBC iPlayer which are browser launched services. Though whether this is the case for mobile apps, where a lot of streaming never uses a web browser is interesting.
What we have not mentioned yet, is that the new unlimited rule applies to legitimate users only, illegitimate users are those who are using a consumer based service for business use contrary to the T and C's, or using the service illegal purposes, or infringing copyright. On the latter, exceeding a specific usage level is NOT enough to consider a user as being illegitimate. It will be interesting to see how providers handle this.
As with almost all advertising guidance the wording of help notes is done in a manner to avoid stifling the innovation of the MadMen, the retrospective investigations can also allow short lifespan promotions to have completed even before the ASA starts an investigation. The rise of web based advertising, where a banner advert may run for just a few days, needs the ASA to adopt in terms of reaction times and perhaps even harsher sanctions. Maybe a three strikes rule, before all advertising has to be pre-approved.
Unlimited is far from dead, it just means providers will be a little more careful in how its used, and will be a little more careful in understanding who the average consumer. In short those who are welded to their broadband connection, and have a 50TB of data storage at home are fair from average.