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Wireless operators stop whining about ads

AT&T and Verizon Wireless have dismissed lawsuits against each other claiming their advertisements were misleading.

Verizon Wireless and AT&T have ended their public legal spat over advertising, and have thus agreed to stop complaining about each other's advertising campaigns.

On Wednesday AT&T announced it dropped its suit against Verizon Wireless for allegedly misleading customers by showing its weak 3G coverage. And Verizon said it agreed to drop a suit it filed earlier this year against AT&T for claiming it had the "More Bars in More Places," the "Best Coverage," and the "Best Worldwide Coverage."

In its amended suit filed in August, Verizon said that AT&T had no basis to refer to its network as the best, because Verizon claims in its own advertising to have "America's Most Reliable 3G Network" and "America's Best 3G Network."

"Through these advertisements, AT&T claims to have a wireless network that is superior, both qualitatively ("More Bars") and quantitatively ("More Places") to the wireless networks of all other U.S. wireless carriers, including Verizon Wireless, both in the United States and worldwide, when in fact, none of those claims is true," Verizon said in its complaint.

But now it looks like AT&T and Verizon have made peace with one another, as AT&T dropped its case in Atlanta and Verizon dismissed its case filed in New York.

However, the lawsuits bring up an interesting trend that was noted recently in an article published by The New York Times. Increasingly, companies are suing each other over claims made in their advertising campaigns.

In addition to AT&T and Verizon Wireless, other longtime foes, such as shampoo and soap makers Pantene and Dove, dog food makers Science Diet and Iams, and soup companies Campbell Soup and Progresso have all haggled over ads, challenging competitors to prove their claims.

Some complaints over "misleading" advertising are filed with the National Advertising Division of the Council of Better Business Bureaus, which is the industry's main self-regulatory program for national ads. But others go to court and file lawsuits under the Lanham Act, which was passed in 1946 to strengthen trademark law. Verizon's lawsuit cited the Lanham Act.

While these lawsuits and complaints may be legitimate, the truth is that most consumers take these advertisements claiming to be the "best" or the "strongest" at anything with a grain of salt. And there is some indication that the mere publicity from these lawsuits can backfire on companies, giving consumers a negative impression of the company that files the lawsuit.

It can be argued that this has happened to AT&T. There have already been numerous reports about problems with AT&T's network, particularly for iPhone users. And when the company filed its lawsuit against Verizon, many consumers expressed anger at AT&T for whining about the advertisement, when many felt that the claims expressed in the advertisement were true.

By contrast, Verizon's lawsuit against AT&T was not well-publicized. In fact, most technology reporters and bloggers hadn't even known about or mentioned the suit until Wednesday when the two companies agreed to drop litigation against each other. It remains to be seen if consumers will also deem the dismissed Verizon lawsuit a bit whiny.