Three recent verdicts show how brands who should know better like Virgin Radio, Estee Lauder, John Lewis and Procter & Gamble are still getting it wrong when it comes to prize/gift promotion basics. There but for the grace…?
Topic: Big names blunder on prize/gift promos
Who: Virgin Radio, Estee Lauder, John Lewis and Procter & Gamble
Where: Ofcom and the Advertising Standards Authority
When: Spring 2006
Three recent prize/gift promotions by large brands came in front of regulators, underlining the dangers that lurk in this area for even the most household of names.
Virgin Radio's "enormous" TV prize
In an hourly phone in competition on Virgin Radio, listeners were invited to identify various American cities. More than once, the prize was described as a "great big telly", "enormous" and "these are not just piddly ones, these are enormous."
A winner subsequently complained to Ofcom after receiving an LD TV that was just 19".
Virgin Radio said it originally intended to give away wide screen TVs but on the day of broadcast they were informed of the actual size. Efforts were made to change the scripts but these three slipped through. All winners had now been written to saying they would receive 32" wide screen sets.
Ofcom pointed out the requirement of Rule 2.11 of the Broadcasting Code that "prizes are described accurately." This had not been followed in these three cases but the broadcaster's later apology and action was regarded as resolving the matter. Ofcom might also have pointed out that inaccurate prize descriptions can lead to claims of misrepresentation and/or breach of contract, probably one reason why Virgin sensibly made their remedial offer to disappointed winners.
Pringles "Every tube's a winner" promotion
The ASA received a complaint about a prize draw promotion on tubes of Pringles. It claimed "Every tube's a winner! Win a trip to New Zealand, portable DVD players & millions of other prizes."
The ts and cs stated "Every promotional can is a winner from millions of prizes including video and mobile games, screensavers, wallpaper, t-shirts, posters, comic books or behind the scenes additional footage. There are additional prizes including a holiday for 4 people to New Zealand, 133 Toshiba DVD TVs and 13,000 cinema tickets."
The ASA challenged whether the promotion differentiated clearly between gifts that were available to all or most respondents and prizes available to a lucky few.
P&G pointed to the words in quotes above starting "Every promotional…", which they believed provided the differentiation the ASA said was lacking.
The ASA noted the explanation in the ts and cs but said there was a significant difference between the number of downloadable items receivable by most participants (15m video games, 10m mobile games etc) and those which could be "won" (one holiday, 133 TVs, 200 t-shirts etc). In the circumstances the downloadable items were in reality "gifts" which should not be described as prizes. The CAP Code requires that there is a clear differentiation between "gifts" which are offered to all or most consumers and "prizes" which consumers had an opportunity to win.
This complaint was upheld.
"Free mascara" promotion lacks essential terms
Text on the outer plastic wrapping of a magazine stated "Free for you! £15 Estee Lauder mascara and powder compact, worth over £15." Text in the body copy stated "Take this page along to the Estee Lauder counter at your local John Lewis store for a complimentary bridal consultation and pick up your free samples."
The ASA challenged whether the promotion was misleading in that it did not include a closing date, when there certainly was one, or terms and conditions.
Estee Lauder said they would normally make it clear that promotions were only available while stocks lasted but this was omitted in error in this case.
The ASA noted this but emphasised the ""Free for you!" cover headline and the "Free for every reader" headline inside the magazine.
In the circumstances it was a breach of the CAP Code, the ASA said, to omit significant conditions such as a closing date, likely to influence consumers' responses to the promotion.
Why this matters
In all these cases, apparently small issues and omissions led to complaints and embarrassment, with consumers initiating the ASA cases and the ASA raising its own complaints in addition. Particularly high profile and big brand promotions are always likely to attract more attention and raise the stakes, so attention to detail is always the watchword, with a gimlet eye on the CAP Code and for on air prize promotions, the Broadcasting Code.