AT&T Sues Verizon Over Map Ad

In what may be an ill-advised move, AT&T has decided to sue Verizon over its television commercial that shows AT&T's 3G data coverage as paltry and Verizon's as robust. But AT&T isn't really disputing that fact. Instead, it's complaining that Verizon is falsely representing the sparse AT&T 3G map as it's more general data coverage map, which would include its slower, non-3G, data speeds. As far as I can see, that's not at all what Verizon is doing.

This was one of the commercials I wrote about a few weeks back. Here it is:

Unless my eyes are playing tricks on me, it clearly says below the AT&T map "AT&T 3G Coverage." At no point when they show a map is 3G left out of the picture. But here's AT&T's more specific complaint, via PCWorld:

AT&T says in its complaint: "In October, 2009, Verizon embarked on an advertising campaign designed to mislead consumers about the scope of AT&T's wireless coverage."

To support that conclusion, AT&T commissioned a study of people in a shopping mall who had seen the ad. AT&T says "almost one in four" thought the ads meant that AT&T provided no wireless coverage in many areas of the country. The lawsuit does not state how many people were interviewed, nor does it explain how the questions were posed.

So let me get this straight: if less than 25% of consumers don't pay close enough attention to an ad, then whoever made the ad is guilty of false advertising due to what those consumers failed to notice? Really AT&T? I'm neither a judge nor lawyer, but I can't see how this case could have any legs.

Instead, I think it demonstrates AT&T's desperation. I recently noted its disappointing third-quarter results. The company is trying very hard to change its image as an inferior wireless carrier with legitimate competitors to the iPhone like Verizon's new Droid coming onto the scene. Commercials like this hamper that effort. If they succeed, and its iPhone-driven account growth takes a significant hit, then that would be very, very bad for AT&T. After all, its wireless segment is one of the few bright spots in its business these days.

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Daniel Indiviglio was an associate editor at The Atlantic from 2009 through 2011. He is now the Washington, D.C.-based columnist for Reuters Breakingviews. He is also a 2011 Robert Novak Journalism Fellow through the Phillips Foundation. More

Indiviglio has also written for Forbes. Prior to becoming a journalist, he spent several years working as an investment banker and a consultant.

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