Skype has had a television commercial banned by the Advertising Standards Authority, which found the ad misrepresented the quality of its video calls.
The advertisement showed a new father making a video call to his parents, and moving the laptop to show the mother and baby. Five people complained to say the ad exaggerated the sound and image quality possible with Skype's technology, the ASA said in its finding on Wednesday.
The ad did not show a real Skype call, as a webcam could not be used to produce broadcast-quality video, Skype said. Instead, simulated images were used.
Skype argued in its defence that the quality of image within the ad was possible with Skype technology, if using the best available equipment and connection speed. It said it had also tried to show the blurring and slowness that would be experienced when a laptop is moved during a call.
However, the ASA said that while it took the internet telephony company's arguments into account, the ad had breached regulations. It has told the company not to show it again.
"We considered that viewers would infer that the sound and picture quality depicted in the ad was typical of the performance that all users could achieve. Consequently, because we understood that that was not the case at the present time, we concluded that the ad could mislead and should therefore have included qualifying text to make clear that performance depended upon the speed and quality of a user's broadband connection," the ASA said.
While simulation is allowed in advertisements, most Skype users would recognise that the quality rarely reaches anything approaching what was shown in the ad, said Clive Longbottom, a service director with analyst firm Quocirca.
"The quality of the Skype call in the advertisement is possible, if you've got two laptops next to each other, connected by fibre," Longbottom said. "But the issue is that most people viewing that commercial will be using 2MB ADSL, with perhaps 512KB or 1MB upload speeds — so their experience will be radically different to what's being shown."
The ASA ruling could have consequences for the industry, Longbottom added. "Skype certainly isn't the only vendor or service provider showing services at a far higher quality or speed than will be experienced by the typical user," he said.
Advertisers showing services that are available with connection speeds of up to 20MB or where segments of a process have been shortened are potentially misleading, Longbottom argued. "It's like showing someone driving from Glasgow to London in a Trebant in 10 minutes, and saying some segments were shortened. Well, technically that's true, but it's also potentially going to mislead someone about how fast that car will go," he said.