One of the risks that come with running high-profile advertising campaigns is that if you step out of line for any reason at all, you can end up in a lot of trouble.
Which is what NordVPN has found out in a ruling from the Advertising Standards Agency (ASA) in the UK.
The nature of the complaint
The complaint received was from a single listener to a radio advert for NordVPN, which was broadcast on 29th August 2022.
It stated that “NordVPN, cyber security built for every day. Shop online without web trackers following your every step. Switch on privacy, switch off trackers and malware…”.
The complainant raised an issue with the claim around malware, arguing that this claim was misleading because VPNs do not protect against malware.
The NordVPN defence was that their Threat Protect feature checks downloaded files for malware and other potential threats and deletes any dangerous files identified before they can cause any harm. This, claimed NordVPN, helped to protect against malware and therefore justified their claim.
NordVPN didn’t just expect the ASA to accept their word on this matter. They also submitted an assessment from an independent IT research institute that concluded that their Threat Protect tool detected 98.72% of malware, which put them on a par with all reputable antivirus software providers.
They argued that no one would reasonably believe that NordVPN offered 100% protection against malware since no anti-malware tool can claim that. Radiocentre also endorsed this point, stating that listeners IT knowledge should be sufficient for this not to be a concern.
The ASA’s decision
However, the ASA did not agree with the arguments put forward by NordVPN.
They noted that the advert did not make any specific references to the Threat Protection feature and argued that the claim in the advert that NordVPN could “switch off malware” was not justified.
They decided it was reasonable that this statement could imply that all malware could be stopped by NordVPN and therefore concluded that the advert was misleading and in breach of their rules.
They have told NordVPN that this advert must not be used again in its current form and that NordVPN should not claim that it can stop malware until it can substantiate this claim more fully.
NordVPN on the naughty step again
NordVPN has had a fairly prominent media presence recently, so it is perhaps no surprise that this is not the first time they have been put on the naughty step by the ASA.
Back in 2019, a NordVPN TV advertisement was the subject of nine complaints over accusations that it exaggerated the extent of the risk that people faced of having their data stolen.
Again, NordVPN mounted a staunch defence of the advert’s claims, as well as noting that there was a humorous element to the situation as well.
But again, the ASA found against them, deciding that the advert was misleading, and NordVPN were instructed not to make similar claims again.
What the ruling means for NordVPN and its users
While NordVPN’s reputation will have taken a bit of a hit from being found guilty of making misleading claims in their advertising not once but twice, it should be stated that these rulings in no way undermine the claims that NordVPN makes about its service.
NordVPN users can still be confident that their data is fully encrypted and that the NordVPN no user logs guarantee is trustworthy.
Equally, they can be confident that the Threat Protect feature, which was the subject of this latest ASA ruling, is an effective tool at stopping malware, even if it is not 100% reliable. As NordVPN themselves noted, no anti-malware software is.
If NordVPN are guilty of anything, it is perhaps overenthusiasm for their product or even hiring an overenthusiastic advertising agency to come up with these adverts on their behalf.
Hopefully, they will have learned their lesson from this ASA ruling, and we will not see them completing a hat-trick of dressings down from the ASA.
But even if that isn’t the case, it should still not take away from the fact that, while it might not be the best advertiser in the world, it is definitely one of the best VPNs.