“Buy one, get one free” promotions are thankfully still legal in the UK despite premature reports of their demise when the Consumer Protection from Unfair Trading Regulations 2008 were introduced last year. . But it is still essential to take care that promotions described as such are not misleading, as two recent ASA decisions underline. Mark Smith reports.
Topic: Promotion Marketing
Who: Pinnacle Health and The Great British Mobility Group
When: January/February 2009
Where: Advertising Standards Authority
Law stated as at: 19 February 2009
The ASA has recently adjudicated on two cases concerning "buy one get one free" offers under the CAP Code.
Pinnacle Health Ltd t/a Simply Supplements (January 2009)
The case concerned two mail order catalogues selling a variety of dietary supplements. The first catalogue stated on the cover "OMEGA 3 GIVEAWAY BUY ONE GET ONE FREE on Everything!". The second was headed "GLUCOSAMINE GIVEAWAY BUY ONE GET ONE FREE on Everything".
These claims were challenged on the basis that they were misleading, after one customer ordered 360 glucosamine tablets expecting to receive a further 360 free, but was told that she actually only purchased 180 tablets and the other 180 were "free".
The ASA noted that both catalogues included a "SIMPLY SUPPLEMENTS PRICE, SIZE AND SYMBOL GUIDE" which stated the "previous quantity", "free quantity" and "the amount you actually receive". However, this appeared only at the bottom of the third page in each catalogue, and individual product entries were not labelled in this fashion.
The ASA considered that readers of the catalogues would presume from the headline claim "BUY ONE GET ONE FREE" that they would pay the stated price for a product and get a second, identical product at no extra cost. For example, a customer purchasing 120 glucosamine tablets for £8.99 would expect to receive a further 120 tablets free, when in fact they were paying £8.99 for only 60 tablets and only getting another 60 free. The ASA held that this approach was misleading and in breach of CAP Code clauses 3.1 (Substantiation), 7.1 (Truthfulness) and 27.4 (Sales Promotion Rules).
The Great British Mobility Group (February 2009)
In this case two press adverts for adjustable furniture included several "Buy one get one free" offers. The adverts were headed "BUY ONE GET ONE FREE*!!" and had small asterisked text below which stated "on all our premier ranges". The advert showed four boxes with the different options on offer, such as "BUY ONE RISE & RECLINER CHAIR, GET ANOTHER MATCHING ONE FREE!!", with photographs of the various options. The adverts did not feature any prices.
The complainant object to the adverts after she was told that, because she was not interested in getting two items, she could have one for half price. She therefore questioned whether the "Buy one get one free" offer was genuine.
The ASA requested documentary evidence from The Great British Mobility Group (GBMG) demonstrating the price of items sold outside the "buy one get one free offer" and also the prices of those items when offered as part of the promotion. GBMG argued that they could not supply this information before the selection and order process, as the price would be dependent on a customer's requirements.
The ASA held that because GBMG had not provided evidence of the price of goods sold outside the "Buy one get one free" promotion and then as part of the promotion, and because this meant that customers were unable to compare the price of a product sold outside the promotion with a product that was part of it, the adverts breached CAP Code clauses 7.1, 7.2 (Truthfulness), 27.4 (Introduction to Sales Promotions Rules) and 32.2 (Free offers and free trials).
Why this matters:
These adjudications provide a warning to other who seek to run a "buy one get one free" promotion to market their products. The terms of such promotions have to be clear and unambiguous, otherwise they may be found in breach of the CAP Code. The Simply Supplements case highlights that using small-print to explain the terms of the offer may not save it if the headline claim is thought to be misleading.