A Music Factory channel viewer thought he had won an onscreen prize promotion, but his name was just going into a random draw. Did a caption referring entrants to a website for the full rules save the day for the Freeview channel? Stephen Groom reports.
Topic: Promotion marketing
Who: MTV Networks International. Trax and Ofcom
When: October 2007 reported January 2008
Law stated as at: 31 January 2008
Ofcom's Broadcast Bulleting reported its decision on a complaint about a prize competition run on MTV's "The Music Factory" digital music channel.
The competition directed participants to MTV's "Trax" website and the complaint was that the draw element of the competition was unclear and breached Rule 2.11 of the Broadcasting Code. This states:
"Competitions should be conducted fairly, prizes should be described accurately and rules should be clear and appropriately made known."
During a programme featuring music videos, a number of automated competitions were run in split screen, using captions and with no presenter involved. Viewers were invited to "enter the pin to win". They had to identify a pre-determined 4 digit code. They were also instructed to "Text TRAX+4 digits TO 84383", a premium rate text service costing £1 per entry. These captions were permanently on screen together with "win £25".
"Draw stage not clear" complaint
A viewer complained to Ofcom after entering the competition, identifying the correct 4 digit code but not winning a prize. He was instead told that he had been entered into a draw to win the £25. The complaint was that this draw element had not been made clear enough.
In its defence MTV pointed out that during the programme a "scrolling terms and conditions line" directed viewers to its Trax website for "full T's and C's". These "T's and C's" included the rule:
"To win you must first identify the correct code then a winner will be picked at random from all the viewers who entered the correct code."
MTV said that all viewers who wanted to participate would have to read the "T's and C's" anyway. This was because only the "T's and C's" explained how to identify the correct 4 digit code.
The broadcaster reported that to avoid any confusion it had since amended the onscreen caption to include a reference to the draw stage and also contacted the complainant to refund his entry costs.
Ofcom considered MTV's arguments but still felt that the Code had been breached.
The regulator disagreed that the T's and C's would have to be read to find out how to crack the 4 digit code, pointing out that information on screen included a reference to how correct and incorrect digits were shown.
Also, in Ofcom's view, the fact that the prize winners would be decided by a draw was a significant rule of the competition which should have been made clear to viewers up front, on screen. It was inadequate, Ofcom said, to make the prize draw element of the competition clear on the internet only.
Therefore, since the information on screen gave the clear impression that all those who cracked the code would win £25, this was misleading and breached Rule 2.11.
Why this matters:
This ruling has relevance well beyond on-screen prize competitions and sounds a warning bell for prize promotion organisers looking to use the "For full terms and conditions visit [website url]" way of bringing promotion rules to punters' attention.
As Ofcom said I this case, "the prize is possibly the most important factor in deciding whether to enter a competition" and so of course is how it can be won.
This is not to say that a reference to full rules being available online at an identified url will never be sufficient, but key aspects such as how the prize can be won should be disclosed in the substantive marketing communication, not left to separate rules, no matter how easily accessible.