National Advertising Division Finds Certain WhatsApp Express Claims Supported; WhatsApp Appeals NAD Recommendation to Discontinue or Modify Unsupported Claims

New York, NY – October 12, 2022 – CTIA represents the U.S. wireless communications industry, including carriers and equipment manufacturers. CTIA members, which include AT&T, Verizon, T-Mobile, Nokia, Intel, Qualcomm, Ericsson, and others, challenged WhatsApp claims that appear in a television commercial titled “Doubt Delivered.” 

The National Advertising Division (NAD) of BBB National Programs determined that WhatsApp, LLC provided a reasonable basis for express claims for its WhatsApp messaging service analogizing SMS text messages to “open mail” and that WhatsApp did not overstate the vulnerability of SMS text messages compared to end-to-end encrypted messaging.

However, NAD found WhatsApp communicated certain other implied messages that NAD recommended discontinued or modified to better reflect the evidence, including that wireless carriers are careless; that they read user’s personal text messages; and that “Consumers must switch to a specialized app like WhatsApp to protect their messages from pervasive eavesdropping.” WhatsApp will appeal these portions of NAD’s decision.

NAD has long recognized that although humor can be an effective and creative way for advertisers to highlight the differences between their products and those of their competitors, humor and hyperbole do not relieve an advertiser of the obligation to support messages that their advertisements might reasonably convey.

At issue for NAD was whether the challenged commercial conveyed the misleading message that carriers and third parties routinely read private text messages and whether it disparages the practices, care, and ethics of wireless carriers.

 

Express Claims

NAD considered whether WhatsApp’s analogy between SMS text messages and “open mail” was supported or whether it overstated the vulnerability of SMS text messages to being compromised as compared with end-to-end encrypted messaging. After reviewing the evidence presented by WhatsApp, NAD concluded that it provided a reasonable basis for the advertiser’s “open mail” claims that:

  • “Text messages are just like open pieces of mail, they’re all open.”
  • “Every text message that individuals send is just as open as opened letters.”

 

Implied Claims 

NAD considered whether the challenged commercial conveyed implied claims that improperly disparaged wireless carriers and that consumers must switch to WhatsApp to protect their messages from pervasive eavesdropping. NAD determined that the challenged commercial conveyed the implied messages that: 

  • Wireless carriers, routinely and without consequences, read user’s personal text messages; and
  • Consumers must switch to a specialized app like WhatsApp to protect their messages from pervasive eavesdropping.

 

In so finding, NAD noted that “Doubt Delivered” goes beyond merely highlighting the differences between the advertiser’s product and that of its competitors but instead takes aim at the quality of competing messaging services and at the practices of the providers themselves. NAD found that the overarching takeaway of the commercial is one of casual and persistent snooping on the recipient’s mail – a message that comes through despite – and perhaps even because of – the commercial’s use of humor and hyperbole. 

Further, NAD concluded that the commercial conveys the disparaging message that wireless carriers are careless with their customer’s communications.

Because the advertiser did not provide a reasonable basis for these implied claims, NAD recommended that they be discontinued or modified to better reflect the evidence.

NAD found that “Doubt Delivered” did not reasonably convey the challenged implied claims that:

  • All messages will be read by wireless carriers.
  • The content of text messages is collected by wireless carriers for their own purposes.
  • Wireless carriers are dishonest.

 

In its advertiser statement, WhatsApp stated that it “respectfully disagrees with NAD’s conclusions with respect to certain of the alleged implied claims and will appeal those portions of NAD’s decision.” 

Appeals of NAD decisions are made to BBB National Programs’ National Advertising Review Board (NARB), the appellate-level truth-in-advertising body of BBB National Programs.

All BBB National Programs case decision summaries can be found in the case decision library. For the full text of NAD, NARB, and CARU decisions, subscribe to the online archive.

 

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