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UK Advertising Standards Authority Upholds Complaint Against Apple's G5 Advertising

UK Advertising Standards Authority Upholds Complaint Against Apple's G5 Advertising

by , 1:30 PM EDT, June 11th, 2004

For the second time, a UK advertising regulatory body has ruled against Apple's advertising campaign for the Power Mac G5. The Advertising Standards Authority (ASA), an independent body with authority over advertising in the UK, upheld one of three complaints from the public against Apple's marketing claims about how fast the Power Mac G5 is; the other two complaints were not upheld.

In November of last year, we reported that the UK's Independent Television Commission (ITC) had ruled that Apple's advertised claim that the Power Mac G5 was the fastest PC on the planet could not be justified, and that the commercial could not be aired. This week's ruling from the ASA is similar, but concerns the magazine campaign that accompanied the TV commercials.

The short version of the ruling is that Apple's claim that the Power Mac G5 was the world's fastest G5 was not true in all instances, and therefore isn't true at all. Complaints that the Power Mac G5 was not actually the first PC (personal computer) to use a 64-bit processor, and that it was the first PC to "shatter the 4 GB memory ceiling," were not upheld.

The ruling, which was issued on June 9th, in its entirety:

Complaint:
Objections to two magazine advertisements for the Power Mac G5 PC. One stated "The new Power Mac G5 is here. It's the world's fastest computer, and the first with a 64-bit processor ...". The other advertisement stated "... Introducing the revolutionary PowerPC G5 processor, the world's first 64-bit processor for personal computers ... the G5's 64-bit architecture addresses dramatically more memory - over 4 billion times more than 32-bit chips - so that the systems built around the G5 can shatter the 4-gigabyte memory ceiling that limits every other PC on earth ...". The complainants challenged the claims:

1. "the world's fastest personal computer";

2. "the first with a 64-bit processor" and

3. "the systems built around the G5 can shatter the 4-gigabyte memory ceiling that limits every other PC on earth."

1. Complaint upheld
The advertisers explained that the G5 was tested against the Dell Dimension 8300 and the Dell Precision 650, at their request, by an independent technology testing company; they believed those machines were the G5's closest competitors. The advertisers maintained that the tests were fair and showed the G5 was faster than the Dell Dimension 8300 and Dell Precision 650 for floating-point calculations and Integer calculations as well as for real-world applications such as Photoshop, standard programmes for professional and music audio creation and scientific analysis of genetic research. The Authority took expert advice. It understood from the advice that the advertisers' tests showed the Power Mac G5 was faster than the other two processors on some applications under certain conditions, but not that it was the fastest processor in all circumstances for all applications. It also understood that the G5 machine tested was still under development and the tests seemed to be configured in a way that might have given the Power Mac G5 an unfair advantage. The Authority was not satisfied that the advertisers had justified the claim "the world's fastest computer" and asked them not to repeat it.

2. Complaints not upheld
The advertisers maintained that the Power Mac G5 was the first 64-bit processor available in a personal desktop computer. They said that, although other 64-bit processors existed at the time the claim was made, they were not available in personal computers. They acknowledged that another 64-bit processor was now available in personal computers, but maintained that the claim was correct when the advertisement appeared. The Authority understood from expert advice that, although 64-bit processors had been available before the G5 was launched, those computers were normally described as "workstations", designed for business use, not personal computers. Although it accepted that some people may have used 64-bit machines as personal computers before the advertisement appeared, the Authority considered that most people would interpret the claim in the context of machines designed for personal computing. Because it understood that the advertisers' 64-bit processor was the first one available as standard in a personal computer at the time the advertisement appeared, the Authority accepted the claim.

3. Complaints not upheld
The advertisers explained that the system built around the G5 allowed users to scale memory up to 8GB as workflow demanded. They said users could access up to twice as much memory as with any other PC. They pointed out that tests showed that other systems such as the Dell Dimension 8300 and the Dell Precision 650 could offer 4GB of main memory only. The Authority took advice. It understood that most personal computers were not equipped to address more than 4GB of memory and could not do so without additional hardware, whereas the Power Mac G5 had an inbuilt ability to address more than 4GB. The Authority accepted the claim.

You can find the complaint at the ASA's Web site.

The Mac Observer Spin:

The Inquirer's spin was that the ASA gave Apple a smackdown for its felonious claims. Then again, that's the Inquirer we are talking about.

Our reading of "The Authority took expert advice. It understood from the advice that the advertisers' tests showed the Power Mac G5 was faster than the other two processors on some applications under certain conditions, but not that it was the fastest processor in all circumstances for all applications." is that what Apple said was true, but that there were other things that were not said, and that those unsaid things made the "fastest" claim technically not true.

Fair enough.

Apple has always showed just the speed tests it wanted, and this is something that is generally true of any advertiser in the US. Most of the speed tests Apple showed were aimed at the company's target markets, which means they are relevant to Apple's customers, but it would seem that such selective claims just aren't kosher in the UK.

Again, that's fair enough.

As for the effect this might have on Apple, the campaign(s) in question were over long before these rulings were issued. As we noted back in November, Apple seldom runs any particular campaign longer than a few weeks. Most of those who might care about this issue one way or another are partisans whose minds are already made up on the Mac vs. PC issue. As such, neither ruling is likely to affect anything other than future campaigns.

Then again, Steve Jobs' policy is to do what you want and the heck with any repercussions, so maybe it won't even affect the future.

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