“Complimentary main course for every reader” said a voucher in an ad in the the Lytham St Anne’s Express for the imaginatively named Hastings Eating and Drinking House. But unexpected limitations caused voucher-wielding punters to complain to the ASA. Omar Bucchioni doesn’t review the menu.
Topic: Promotion marketing
Who: ASA, Johnston Press plc t/a Lytham St Anne’s Express and Hastings Eating and Drinking House
When: June 2010
Where: Lytham St Annes – UK
Law stated as at: 28 June 2010
Recently the Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) investigated a regional press ad promotion following a complaint.
The ad promotion featured a voucher for free meals at a local restaurant. The ad was headlined “Come and help Hastings Eating & Drinking House Celebrate! Complimentary main course for every reader”.
The text stated “[…] The Hastings have invited Lytham St Annes Express readers to come along and sample their cuisine and receive this extra special offer – a complimentary main course for every reader”. Small print stated “This offer applies Tuesday – Thursday to the a la Carte menu ONLY and diners must order a minimum of two courses each. The offer is valid until the end of February. Diners must take completed coupon to receive the offer”. The voucher itself stated “Complimentary Main Course! To take advantage of this offer please take this along to The Hastings when you have your meal. No photocopies accepted. No cash alternative”.
The complainant was in a party of six and the group ordered two starters, six main courses and six desserts. When they presented six vouchers, expecting to receive six complimentary main courses, they were told the offer was for each party of two and the cheaper of the main courses would be free. They were also told that desserts were not part of the la carte menu, which meant the group of six could use only two vouchers.
The complainant raised the point that the claim “FOR EVERY READER” was misleading as it implied that each voucher holder was entitled to a complimentary main course.
Johnston Press and Hastings given different versions of events; each said the other was to blame for the terms of the offer being published incorrectly.
What Johnston Press had to say
Johnston Press blamed a public relations (PR) company which acted on behalf of Hastings Eating & Drinking House. They said that they sent a proof of the ad to the PR company and the wording was changed on three occasions before final copy approval was given and the ad was published.
What the PR company, on behalf of Hastings Eating & Drinking House had to say
The PR company stated that the published offer should have advertised one free main course (the cheapest) when two people both ordered a starter and a main course from the la carte menu. A free main course was not available if desserts were ordered.
Because of the deadline they were working towards and also an IT breakdown which interrupted further communications with Johnson Press, they were forced to approve the ad without having seen a final version. They said the original copy they submitted to the newspaper referred to a “complimentary main course” and did not state “for every reader”; that phrase was allegedly erroneously added by Johnston Press.
They admitted that the ad should have made clear that the offer applied to starters and main courses only, although they had not requested that condition to be added to the copy. Since desserts were not part of the la carte menu (and hence not part of the offer), the party could only use two vouchers since they had ordered only two starters from the la carte menu to accompany their six main courses.
What the ASA had to say
The ASA considered the offer and what readers could infer from the ad.
Since the ad stated generically that every voucher holder was entitled to a complimentary main course when they ordered two courses, readers could have interpreted that the two courses were either a starter and a main course or a dessert and a main course. The intended offer was one complimentary main course per couple when both people ordered a starter and a main course from the la carte menu.
Because the ad had incorrectly stated the terms of the offer, and the offer as published had not been honoured, the ASA concluded that the ad was misleading and breached the Code (CAP Code clauses 7.1 and 7.2 – Truthfulness).
By way of a quick note, the two clauses state:
“7.1 No marketing communication should mislead, or be likely to mislead, by inaccuracy, ambiguity, exaggeration, omission or otherwise.
7.2 Marketing communications must not omit, hide or provide in an unclear, unintelligible, ambiguous or untimely manner material information if that omission or presentation is likely to affect consumers’ decisions about whether and how to buy the advertised product, unless the information is obvious from the context. […]”
Why this matters:
Once again the ASA is showing that not only national press can go under its scrutiny but regional and local press too. Traders, publishers and advertisers should pay particular attention to clarifying all material limitations on a promotion. On this occasion, Johnston Press and Hastings were told to ensure that the terms and conditions of offers were published accurately in future, to avoid misleading readers. Often the adverse publicity which follows from an ASA adverse adjudication is the major impact for companies found in breach of relevant sections of the Code.
The case is reported on the ASA website.