Who: The Advertising Standards Authority
Where: United Kingdom
When: 23 April 2020
Law stated as at: 6 May 2020
The ASA has released new guidance on marketing subscription box services, a market that has rapidly grown over the last few years.
The ASA are primarily concerned that consumers often don’t know what they are signing up for. The guidance covers three main points: free trials, material information and objective claims.
“Subscription traps” are when consumers are enrolled onto continuous payment plans without their knowledge, having signed up for a free trial. The ASA notes that it has ruled against advertisers in the past when they have failed to make explicitly clear that their free trial automatically starts a paid subscription unless it is cancelled, and reminds advertisers to clearly state all significant conditions which are likely to influence a consumer’s decision.
“Clarity is key“, and the ASA has emphasised that simply stating “T&Cs apply” is unlikely to be sufficient when making conditions or important information about the subscription clear to consumers. It suggests that significant conditions, such as age, date or geographical restrictions, or any limitations of availability, should be displayed so that consumers see them before choosing to begin a subscription or free trial.
The guidance also asks advertisers to remember that the rest of the Committee of Advertising Practice Code applies to subscription boxes. Any objective claims need to be backed up by evidence and exaggerations will not be compliant. Advertisers should also be mindful of the specific restrictions that might apply to their boxes, if selling alcohol, food, health or beauty products.
Why this matters:
Subscription boxes are available for an incredibly wide range of genres or interests, across similarly wide price levels, and increasing in popularity (especially during current circumstances). However, as with any other purchase of goods or services, consumers need to be appropriately informed of what they are signing up for and how to cancel their subscription. As such, the ASA’s guidance will be particularly relevant to less experienced businesses operating in this young market and a good reminder of core principles for any business offering subscription products.