Who: The Advertising Standards Authority (ASA)
Where: United Kingdom
When: April 2020
Law stated as at: 11 May 2020
The ASA has issued a short guidance note summarising its existing guidance on the use of “free trial” claims. Businesses are offering a range of free trials for subscriptions in particular at the moment while many families are an ideal target for their products while at home in lockdown. The ASA has reminded advertisers to always make it very clear to potential customers exactly what it is they are entering into and to use free trials responsibly. See here for the full guidance.
Changes to promotions
The ASA has acknowledged how Section 8 of the Committee of Advertising Practice Code acknowledges the possibility of events happening that are unexpected and out of a promoter’s control. They have issued a guidance note which looks at what happens when circumstances, like the current pandemic, mean that a promoter finds itself unable to carry out a promotion as planned. The ASA has highlighted such issues will be looked at on a case-by-case basis but there must also be reasonable justification for amending a promotion and then managing the changes to the promotion well. The ASA said it “…will not take lightly any situation where any advertiser has taken advantage of the situation for financial gain or otherwise acted to mislead or disadvantage consumers“.
It is acknowledged that some examples of how the current pandemic could impact on planned promotions include:
- The availability of promotional items could be affected.
- Promoters may want to change their promotion terms and conditions – The ASA points out rule 8.23 states that conditions of entry for prize promotions must only be amended in exceptional circumstances, and Covid-19 could be such exceptional circumstances. However, promoters must be able to demonstrate why this has then made it necessary for them to amend any conditions for promotion.
- Promoters may want to change the closing date of their promotion – This should only happen where there may be unavoidable circumstances beyond the control of the promoter which make this necessary.
- Promoters may be unable to award the prize initially advertised – The ASA recognises some advertised prizes (for example, holidays) can no longer be awarded as described and the current situation may also make it impossible for promoters to award other prizes within 30 days. The ASA says this isn’t an excuse to just cancel the promotion without awarding any prize at all and instead promoters should award the prize as soon as they can or award a reasonable equivalent (of roughly equal value) where the advertised prize cannot be awarded.
The full guidance can be viewed here.
Why this matters:
While none of this guidance is new, its timely release does help advertisers apply the usual rules in these exceptional circumstances. In particular, it is worth noting that the usual rules do apply and advertisers will need to be able to fully justify any exceptions to the norm. advertisers should also be aware that the ASA is keeping a close eye on promotions and promotions may be the subject matter of many complaints at the moment.