Smooth Radio Northwest ran a weekly phone-in competition during May 2009 with a grand prize of an “all-inclusive” Pacific island holiday. But who had to pay the £400 airport taxes? Jenny Reid reports on the outcome of the disappointed winner’s complaint.
Topic: Promotion marketing
Who: Smooth Radio Northwest ("Smooth")
Where: Ofcom (UK)
When: 12 October 2009
Law stated as at: October 2009
In May 2009, Smooth radio ran a competition in which listeners could win "an all-inclusive week in paradise on twelve miles of white sandy beaches". Clues were given out on-air, prompting listeners to call a (standard rate) telephone number. Callers were selected at random to be brought on-air and asked a question. If they answered correctly, they won £100 and entry into a weekly prize draw in which they stood a chance of winning a holiday in Turks and Caicos Islands.
The 'real' prize
A listener who had won a holiday in such a prize draw complained to Ofcom after discovering that they were liable to pay airport taxes totalling around £400. The complainant said that this had come as a surprise and that it was not made clear that the prize did not include taxes.
Ofcom asked Smooth for its comments under rule 2.11 of the Ofcom Broadcasting Code 2008 (the "Code") which states that "competitions should be conducted fairly, prizes should be described accurately and rules must be appropriately known".
GMG Radio, the owner of the licence for Smooth, responded explaining that throughout each promotion, listeners were advised to visit the station's website for full terms and conditions of the competition. These terms and conditions stated that winners would be required to pay airport taxes. Further, those who got through to the Friday draws were asked to confirm verbally that they had read the online terms and conditions.
GMG Radio explained that, due to the number of terms and conditions applicable to the competition, they had decided to refer participants to the online terms and conditions rather than to list them all on-air. They felt it was reasonable to assume that those interested in entering the competition would check the terms and conditions, particularly as it could be expected that prizes involving travel would have pre-entry considerations such as passport and visa requirements, health regulations and airport taxes.
Ofcom noted the extent to which reference was made to the terms and conditions during the broadcasts and the pre-draw telephone call, but found that the description of the prize as "all-inclusive" was not an accurate reflection of what could be won. They felt that the requirement to pay over £400 in airport taxes would have put some listeners off entering the competition if this had been disclosed on-air.
As this was such a significant factor in Ofcom's view, they said that it should have been made very clear throughout the competition, regardless of the fact that listeners were reminded to refer to the terms and conditions online.
Ofcom ruled that Smooth were in breach of rule 2.11 of the Code because the prize was not accurately described on-air.
Why this matters:
Radio competition promoters should make sure than any significant terms, the omission of which could mislead consumers, are expressly stated on-air and not simply referred to in the online terms and conditions to which listeners are directed.
It is also worth bearing in mind that this approach is reflected in the CAP British Code of Advertising, Sales Promotion and Direct Marketing, governing non broadcast advertising. This states in the section headed "Significant conditions for promotions" at 34.1 (a) that "promotions should specify clearly before any purchase (or before or at the time of entry/application, if no purchase is required):.significant conditions and costs and any other major factors reasonably likely to influence consumers' decisions."