Bradford & Bingley ran a national “Property Woman of the Year” contest but a disappointed entrant queried the selection process and its consistency with ads. David Pawan reports the Advertising Standards Authority’s verdict and the lessons.
Topic: Promotion marketing
Who: Advertising Standards Authority
When: 9 July 2008
Where: United Kingdom
Law stated as at: 25 July 2008
An internet ad on the Bradford & Bingley plc ("B&B") website promoted B&B's "Property Woman of the Year' Awards".
The ad stated "Judging will be based on your financial nous, feedback from your tenants, how long it took to build your business, how you run it, and your personal drive and determination to succeed. We don't want much do we?"
The complainant, a candidate who was shortlisted for her region in that tier of the competition but did not win, challenged whether the competition had been properly administered.
The complainant stated that she had not been asked to provide any evidence which might objectively be compared with that of other competitors on the criteria identified in the ad, and believed that the regional winners may have been chosen without verification.
B&B stated that they had appointed a PR firm to advise them on the best approach to structure and promote their competition. They had appointed a panel of three experts to judge all aspects of the competition, including the regional heats, and had ensured some of them were independent of B&B.
Additionally they said that the full legal terms and conditions of the competition were accessible from the B&B website, and that these set out the criteria upon which competition entrants would be judged, namely: (i) financial acumen; (ii) how long it had taken to build up their business; (iii) how they ran their business (including property conditions); and (iv) their personal drive and enthusiasm.
Initial in house screening of regional applicants
B&B stated that all 50 of the entries were first checked in-house to ensure entrants had correctly filled out the forms and provided the necessary information. They explained that at stage one of the competition the entries from all those shortlisted in the regional heats were submitted to the judges, who were then required to score them based on the following four criteria which "distilled" those set out in the competition rules: (i) "overcoming personal obstacles"; (ii) "clear business strategy explained"; (iii) "taking some form of risk in their venture"; and (iv) "overall success (evidence of making a reasonable profit on a property portfolio)". The judges were instructed to award scores of between 1 and 5 for each category, with 5 being the highest.
B&B explained that once the regional shortlisted candidates were scored and winners chosen for each region, the tenants of the regional winners were contacted by B&B's PR company to verify their credibility, and to obtain their opinions on matters such as property upkeep. They stated that a team from B&B also checked semi finalists (i.e. winners of the regional heats) on their Mortgage Express database to determine whether the accounts they held were properly managed. B&B maintained that if any of the regional winners did not have properties with them a search was carried out through HM Land Registry, and B&B sent documents from the PR company employed to manage the competition to prove this. B&B also stated that this further information was then cross-referenced with the scores the judges had previously given to the eight semi-finalists, to determine the overall winner.
B&B conceded that whilst verification checks were carried out on semi-finalists, they were not carried out on all applicants. However B&B stated that they believed this was a reasonable and proportionate way for them to have administered the competition.
B&B sent to the ASA the Judges Packs for the two independent judges (detailing the scores given by them to those entrants shortlisted in the regional heats of the competition), which led to the choice of regional winners. However they did not send the Judges Pack for the third in-house judge, asserting that she had destroyed her records after the final as she had not anticipated the need to keep them. Nonetheless B&B did send the PR company's records of all three of the judges' scorings on the semi-finalists for the regional heats.
The ASA upheld the complaint in relation to B&B's administration of the competition.
The ASA noted that B&B had appointed independent judges to their competition, and that each entrant shortlisted in the regional heats was numerically scored by the three judges based on four criteria. Nevertheless, the ASA noted that the regional shortlists provided to the judges were drawn from all entries by an in-house B&B team, and that the process and criteria for regional short-listing were unclear.
The ASA commented that the ad stated that "Judging will be based on your financial nous, feedback from your tenants, how long it took to build your business, how you run it, and your personal drive and determination to succeed."
However, the ASA considered that the four scoring categories provided to the judges, namely "overcoming personal obstacles", "clear business strategy explained", "taking some form of risk in their venture", and "overall success (evidence of making a reasonable profit on a property portfolio)", did not accord with the criteria set out in the ad. The ASA highlighted that the ad did not mention "overcoming personal obstacles" or "taking some form of risk in their venture" as judging criteria. The ASA further noted that the "feedback from your tenants" criterion had only been applied to the regional winners to determine the overall winner, and believed that the ad created the misleading impression that this criterion would be applied universally.
The ASA concluded that B&B had not administered the promotion in accordance with the criteria set out in the ad, a requirement set out at clause 35.9(f) of the CAP Code, thus had not dealt fairly with entrants throughout all stages of the competition (as required by CAP Code clause 27.4).
Action taken by the ASA
The ASA therefore adjudicated that the ad had breached CAP Code clauses 27.4 (Sales promotion rules), 34.1(a) (Significant conditions for promotions – how to participate) and 35.9(f) (Other rules for prize promotions – judging).
As a result of the ad the ASA has advised B&B to ensure that, in future, the advertised judging procedures and criteria for their competitions are the same as those applied in practice.
Why this matters:
This adjudication serves as a warning to others seeking to run a competition as a means of promotional marketing. Clearly the rules of the competition must be unambiguously set out in any advertising material. Furthermore the entrants must be judged fully in accordance with the criteria set out in the ad itself to ensure that the competition is deemed to be managed in such a way that all entrants are treated fairly throughout the competition process.