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Mint Mobile pulls back on unlimited ad claims after AT&T challenge

Following an unsuccessful appeal to an advertising review board, Mint Mobile will stop using the term “Unlimited” in ad claims for wireless prepaid data plans, or tweak messages to clearly state that it doesn’t offer unlimited high-speed data.

The recommendations come from a panel of the National Advertising Review Board (NARB) and apply to Mint’s use of “Unlimited and “UNLTD” headlines in ads. Mint Mobile’s unsuccessful appeal of a November NAD decision came after several of the carrier’s ads for unlimited prepaid 4G LTE and 5G plans were challenged by prepaid competitor AT&T.

In an advertiser’s statement Mint Mobile said it will comply with NARB’s decision and supports the self-regulatory process, “although it disagrees with the Panel’s conclusions.”

The main conclusion was that Mint doesn’t actually offer unlimited data in the way consumers would reasonably understand the term, as speeds are throttled down to 2G after reaching a data cap of 35GB. Mint already agreed to permanently discontinue claims of “5G 4G LTE Data Unlimited and “Unlimited Data” but had appealed the use of “Unlimited” and “UNLTD” altogether.

NARB noted there was no dispute that Mint Mobile customers who pass the data limit threshold are throttled. It agreed with NAD and AT&T that in context, the term Unlimited would be taken by consumers to mean data and evaluated ads within a marketplace where data plays a key role in consumers picking and choosing different cellular plans.

“The panel noted that it was particularly troubled by the advertisement labeled ‘YOU'VE GOT DATA,’ in which the ‘buckets’ moving from left to right were labeled 4GB, 10GB, 15GB, and, finally, ‘UNLTD,’ which communicated a strong message that the fourth plan provided unlimited data,” NARB stated Tuesday.

NAD has told carriers before that advertising “unlimited” plans when speeds are throttled is a no-go. Just last week Comcast’s Xfinity Mobile was told to stop advertising “unlimited 5G” plans because speeds are reduced to 3G after a 20GB cap. Dish’s Boost Mobile agreed to follow similar recommendations in March when its ads for 4G LTE unlimited data were challenged by AT&T.

As in other cases, NAD’s original decision noted that while Mint included disclosures about slower speeds and lower quality video streams, an advertiser can’t use those as a fix when it contradicts the underlying claim of “unlimited.”

“Because Mint's headlines ‘UNLIMITED’ and ‘UNLTD’ describe an unlimited data plan, any disclosure that limits basic data usage on the plan contradicts this message and conflicts with consumer expectations of an unlimited plan,” NAD concluded in a December 9 decision.

One ad message NAD decided wasn’t up for review is Mint Mobile’s use of “Unliminted” as it doesn’t make an express claim.

Mint Mobile is a prepaid MVNO that uses T-Mobile network and is known for ad endorsements featuring actor Ryan Reynolds (who often cites ownership in the company) to boost name recognition.

AT&T competes in the prepaid space, including through Cricket Wireless, and recently enlisted Mario Lopez to pitch AT&T-branded prepaid at Walmart stores.

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