Six out of eight complaints upheld was not an ideal result for a recent series of three “scratchcard prize competitions” run by Thus.
Who: Thus Plc and The Advertising Standards Authority
When: April 2003
The Advertising Standards Authority ("ASA") received a complaint about a series of scratchcard promotions operated by Thus Plc. All of the promotions involved calling a premium rate telephone line, but the rules did state "No purchase necessary. If you require a personal claim number write enclosing an SAE to….. " All the scratchcards also carried the announcement "This is an independent competition". One of the promotions referred to £300 holiday vouchers as a top prize. Another referred to "three chances to win instantly over £1,000,000 worth of prizes …".
The promotional material was challenged on a number of grounds.
First of all it was queried as to whether it was acceptable to describe the scratchcards as a competition. This was because the complainer believed that all cards were winners and most participants were awarded holiday vouchers. Thus countered by saying that 2.5% of the cards were not winners. For the ASA, however, this was not enough and since "almost all" the cards were winners, the ASA considered that the "prizes" were in reality gifts and the "promotion" was not a "competition".
The description "£300 holiday vouchers" was also alleged to be misleading because the vouchers were discount vouchers redeemable only against holidays from specific brochures and the redemption amount depended on the cost of the holiday. Thus replied that the amount of the discount did not depend on the cost of the holiday, but it was clear that the vouchers were only redeemable against British Airways Holidays, whilst in some cases the value of the voucher did appear to have gone up to £700. Here again the ASA upheld the complaint, found the description "£300 holiday vouchers" ambiguous and told the promoters to state clearly future limitations on vouchers' use.
The absence of any reference to terms and conditions applied to the holiday vouchers was also the subject of a complaint upheld finding, whilst "win instantly" was also found to be misleading, given that the scratchcards did not state the prize but merely the prize level. Winners then had to call a premium rate telephone number or send for a personal claim number to find out what they had won. Because of this the ASA was not persuaded that prizes were there to be won instantly and told the promoters not to refer to prizes as being "instant wins" unless it was clear from the scratchcard itself and/or the promotional material what the prize was.
Another complaint was that the postal entry route was not given enough prominence. Here again the complaint was upheld. Thus claimed that two recent major prize winning cards were from people who claimed by post and they sent the names of those winners. The ASA noted, however, that the front of the card did not refer to the postal entry option and that it was mentioned only in the rules. Because the method of telephone entry was stated very prominently and the terms and conditions relating to that method of entry were stated at the foot of the front of the card, the ASA considered that the card should include the same information for the postal entry method with equal prominence.
Another upheld complaint related to references to "holidays in Amsterdam and Disneyland Paris". This was because the tour operator involved did not guarantee those destinations and gave only one departure date which could be confirmed as little as 7 days before departure. It appeared on further examination that a winner of a holiday in Amsterdam might in fact end up getting a holiday in Disneyland Paris or vice versa, and that winners might receive notification of departure date, destination and departure point within between "7 and 90 days" before departure. If a different date of travel was required, contestants could upgrade to different options but this would require an additional payment. Because recipients might not get the holiday the promotion claimed they would receive, the ASA considered that the descriptions of the holidays were ambiguous and likely to mislead.
Why this matters:
These promotions are full of features which repeatedly provide pitfalls for advertisers and promoters: events in which most participants win something, vouchers, holiday "prizes", free entry routes to what are pay to enter events. All these require special care in the drafting of the rules and the promotional materials surrounding them.