It's possible to tell the truth while also being misleading.
For example it's true to say that one of my close relatives had a hall of fame career in a popular sport. That however sounds better than the reality because it was my grandmother and it's for candlepin bowling as an organizer not for her bowling prowess. So, everything in the first sentence is true, but it's really only a piece of the story.
That's what Verizon (NYSE:VZ) is doing in its latest commercial which makes the lead held by its network over AT&T (NYSE:T), Sprint (NYSE:S), and T-Mobile (NASDAQ:TMUS) seem bigger than it actually is. In the ad titled "A better network as explained by colorful balls," balls run down a course with each one representing a first place finish in the recent RootMetrics First-Half 2015 Wireless Network Performance in the United States report.
The spot correctly shows that Verizon led the way with 153 state wins, compared to 38 for AT&T, two for Sprint, and none for T-Mobile. It also points out that Verizon came in first for data, calls, speed, and reliability while AT&T won for text. It concludes with the line "Stuck on an average network, switch to Verizon and we'll cover your cost to switch" before flashing on the company's "better matters" slogan.
Nothing Verizon said was a lie, but it also was not the whole truth.
What is Verizon missing?
Mobile network ratings are not football games. One company winning means it rates better, but it does not mean that the other or others have lost. The real story in the first half of 2015 report is that Verizon's once large lead over its three rivals has largely gone away.
In fact, compared to the first half of 2014 report, the last place finisher -- T-Mobile -- now has a better score than Verizon did just a year ago. In 12 months the entire industry has improved.
Verizon remains on top, but if its network was good enough a year ago, then it could be argued that T-Mobile and Sprint are good enough now while AT&T is more than adequate. Being the top carrier consistently is an accomplishment for Verizon, but it's not necessarily one that translates into a noticeably improved consumer experience.
"Verizon's margin of victory in five of the six categories, however, was relatively small," said the RootMetrics report. "AT&T finished a strong second in the majority of categories, Sprint narrowed the gap in call performance, and T-Mobile made strides in our data and speed categories."
This isn't a case of winner and losers it's one of A versus A- versus B+ and B. All of those are pretty good grades and in most cases any of the four major wireless carriers would serve most consumers adequately.
Why is Verizon doing this?
With T-Mobile and Sprint specifically marketing based on lower prices Verizon has to convince consumers that its network is worth paying extra for. That would have been true just 12 months ago, but now it's better in the way that getting poison ivy might be better than getting poison oak. Both are pretty similar and the end result it pretty much the same.
Verizon does not want to tell the whole story here. It has the top network, but only by a relatively small amount and probably not by enough to make it worth it for most consumers to pay higher prices.