09/05/2012 03:40 BST

Virgin Media Rapped Over 'Misleading' Adverts

Part of a multimillion-pound Virgin Media campaign featuring champion sprinter Usain Bolt has been banned following complaints that the company misled consumers about pricing.

The press, circular and television adverts ran in February to promote a Virgin Media telecoms package and showed the Olympic gold medalist attempting to impersonate Virgin founder Sir Richard Branson by taking over his office and donning his trademark blonde goatee.

The Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) received 18 complaints that the headline prices did not include the cost of a Virgin phone line which was compulsory.

Defending the ad, Virgin Media said it included the landline requirement in the main body of the press version, in the small print of the circular and in on-screen text.

But the ASA said: "We understood that the line rental was a compulsory monthly charge which consumers were required to pay in order to obtain the bundle and because it had not been included in the quoted headline price, we concluded that the ads were misleading."

The regulator said: "The ads must not appear again in their current form.

"We told Virgin to ensure that all non-optional fees are included in the quoted headline prices in future."

In a separate ruling, the ASA upheld a complaint by BT that Virgin Media had misled consumers by claiming to provide "the UK's fastest broadband".

The ASA said: "We told Virgin not to claim that their broadband was the fastest in the UK unless they held adequate comparative evidence to substantiate that was the case."

A Virgin Media spokesman said the ads featuring Bolt had only ever been scheduled to have a limited run until the end of March.

He added: "We always want to be clear in our advertising and these ads clearly stated a Virgin Media phone line was required. It appears the ASA has recently shifted its guidance on this point so we'll specify the phone line cost in our advertising and expect other providers will do the same."

Relating to the "fastest broadband" complaint, he said: "Independent results have proven time and again that we deliver the speeds we advertise and with 30Mb now our entry-level broadband, superfast comes as standard with Virgin Media.

"We offer up 100Mb broadband to around 13 million homes across the country and this summer will begin boosting these speeds to 120Mb as we extend our lead as the UK's fastest widely available broadband."

Last month Virgin Media agreed to pull another ad in the same campaign featuring the former Doctor Who actor David Tennant following BBC concerns about perceived commercial endorsement.

Virgin Media said it pulled the ad, which showed Tennant using its TiVo service to watch old episodes of the BBC One show, as a "gesture of goodwill" after the broadcaster complained that it appeared to be a commercial endorsement by a BBC brand.

Virgin Media's chief financial officer Eamonn O'Hare later said the campaign featuring Bolt and Tennant had been a "big driver" of sales, with subscribers to its premium pay-TV and superfast broadband increasing significantly.