Who: The Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) and AOS Trading Ltd t/a Rattan Hut (Rattan Hut)
Where: United Kingdom
When: 6 September 2023
Law stated as at: 17 October 2023
Rattan Hut, a garden furniture retailer, advertised to customers via an email, their website and a paid-for social media post that they could claim a “free” garden furniture product. The ASA upheld complaints against the advertisements, which were challenged on the basis that advertising products as “free” was misleading and breached the UK Code of Non-broadcast Advertising and Direct & Promotional Marketing (CAP Code).
The website post featured a wheel that customers could “spin” to receive a prize. Text on the website stated “HURRAY! YOU HAVE WON A FREE EGG CHAIR. Please apply the voucher code to your basket to automatically claim your gift by the end of today”, followed by a voucher code.
The email stated “you’ve won a gift by spinning the wheel on our website! […] you get to choose from one of three amazing gifts: a free egg chair worth £395.98, a free premium cover set worth £199.99, or a voucher for £150 off your purchase. To claim your chosen gift, all you need to do is enter the coupon code at the basket stage of your order”, followed by a list of codes for each item.
The paid-for social media post featured an image of a parasol set with a struck-through price of £699.99, underneath was the word “FREE”. A code was provided for customers to enter when they were at the checkout stage.
In reality, Rattan Hut required customers to spend a minimum order value on other products sold by them in order to claim the advertised items, which resulted in complaints being made to the ASA that the ads were misleading. The ASA ultimately upheld the complaints. The CAP Code states that marketing communications must not describe a product as “free” if the customer has to pay anything other than the unavoidable cost of responding and collecting or paying for delivery of the item (the “free principle” under the CAP Code). The ASA therefore also determined that because the products were incorrectly described as “free”, the advertisements were misleading.
The advertisements breached rules 3.1, 3.3 (misleading advertising), and 3.23 (free principle) of the CAP Code. The ads therefore had to be removed or amended by Rattan Hut. The ASA was also concerned by the advertiser’s lack of response and disregard for the CAP Code, which breached rule 1.7 (unreasonable delay) of the Code. The ASA reminded Rattan Hut of the responsibility to respond promptly to their enquiries.
Why this matters:
This ruling is a reminder that in order to advertise a product as free, advertisers cannot require customers to spend a minimum amount on other products, and that marketing communications must make clear the commitment or actions required by the consumer in order to claim a product at no cost. If a customer is required to spend more than the unavoidable cost of responding and arranging for collection or delivery of the product, use of “free” in advertisements is likely to be misleading.
The ASA also made it clear that a failing to respond to a complaint is in breach of rule 1.7 of the CAP Code, and that advertisers are under a responsibility to respond to the ASA’s enquiries.