Does a cashback credit card offer mean the cash has to go in the post?
Who Halifax plc and the Advertising Stand and the Advertising Standards Authority
When September 2001
Halifax plc was hauled before the Advertising Standards Authority to answer a complaint that their "platinum cashback card" promotion offering 1 per cent “cashback” on every purchase, was by definition misleading. Why? Because hard cash was never going to be posted to the cardholder. The promotional 1 per cent return payment on all money expended using the card was not available by cash or cheque, but credited to the cardholder's account about once a year. In its defence, Halifax said readers would hardly expect to be sent pound notes in the post. Moreover, in the 1 per cent could be spent in the same way as cash. The ASA, in a refreshing fit of good sense, took the view that whilst "money back" might have been 100 per cent accurate, cardholders could if they wanted request that a cheque be posted to them for their 1%. In the circumstances the ASA did not feel that the promotion was materially misleading and threw out the complaint.
Why this matters
In some recent decisions the ASA has been adopting a worryingly strict and literal approach to whether ad copy is or is not misleading. This is in contrast to the courts, who, in comparative advertising cases, for example, have been reluctant to penalise advertisers for inaccurate advertising unless the marketing piece as a whole could be regarded as seriously misleading. The court's rationale has been that consumers are streetwise and sophisticated enough to treat all advertising with scepticism and do not expect it to be true in every detail. In this decision, the ASA has demonstrated a similar attitude and it is hoped that the trend continues!