AT&T Battles T-Mobile Over Holiday Parody

AT&T apparently wasn't amused by last year's T-Mobile holiday ad, in which a talking snowman called T-Mobile's rivals "the abominable carriers" and said they "only cared about silver and gold and how to take it from the people of the world.”

In the video ad -- a two-minute parody of holiday movies -- a claymation version of CEO John Legere is on his way to the Island of Misfit CEOs when he comes upon an elf, a deer and a snowman on a mountain. The characters then talk about how Legere saved the wireless industry from the "abominable carriers."

At one point, the ad displayed mocked-up newspaper versions of online sites including Gizmodo, Thrillist and CNET. The "newspapers" carried headlines that actually ran on the sites, including "Verizon is ripping off thousands of customers" (which appeared on Thrillist in 2016), and "Here's another way AT&T is screwing over its customers" (which ran in Gizmodo in 2015).

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AT&T complained about the ad to the National Advertising Division -- a self-regulatory watchdog administered by the Better Business Bureau. The telecom objected to numerous statements made in the ad, arguing that they denigrate the company.

The NAD said Friday it referred the matter to the Federal Trade Commission and Federal Communications Commission because T-Mobile refused to participate in a review.

In its complaint, AT&T specifically criticized T-Mobile's presentation of the news headlines from Gizmodo and the other online sites. "AT&T took the position that, by relying on opinion articles published years ago and other generalized statements throughout the video, T-Mobile falsely and misleadingly makes broad and unsubstantiated superiority comparisons between T-Mobile’s current practices and disclosures and AT&T’s current practices and disclosures," the NAD wrote in its opinion.

T-Mobile unsuccessfully asked the NAD to close the case administratively, according to the watchdog. After the NAD declined to do so, T-Mobile allegedly declined to participate in the review.

The watchdog said the "whimsical tone" of the video and its "seasonal nature" were "not persuasive reasons to close the proceeding."

"The video compares T-Mobile’s service to its competitors, specifically making numerous references to AT&T, the kinds of comparative claims routinely addressed in NAD proceedings, as well as making monadic claims about T-Mobile’s service that require support," the watchdog wrote. "The fact that the video was primarily disseminated through social media does not deprive NAD of jurisdiction to review the video."

T-Mobile's Legere took to Twitter Friday to respond to news of AT&T's complaint. "HAHAHAHAHA - @ATT??" he wrote. "You’re complaining about a Claymation holiday video??? Totally something a major miser would do!!

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