Detailed promotional offer terms and conditions were just a click away, but this was not enough to save online marketer Abcaz from a “complaint upheld” finding over a “free weekend break” offer.
Topic: Promotion marketingb> Promotion marketing
Who: Abcaz Holidays and Travel and the Advertising Standards Authority
When: October 2002
An on-line promotion and follow-up email offered a free weekend break to anyone registering with the advertisers to receive future promotional material. The headline ran "Fancy a free weekend break? Stay at one of 200 plus UK hotels for free – when you register with Abcaz". Under this was a link to terms and conditions and these stated that dinner and breakfast would have to be paid for. The subject box of the email that was sent out to any individual that did register included in the subject box the phrase "Your free holiday". Again there was a link to the terms and conditions which made it clear that dinner and breakfast would have to be paid for separately.
A complaint was received by the Advertising Standards Authority that this was misleading because consumers had to pay for dinner and breakfast to take advantage of the offer. In defence of their case, Abcaz emphasised the easy link to the terms and conditions which did make the extent of the free offer clear. This did not mollify the Advertising Standards Authority. The ASA felt there was still a strong risk that individuals who did not click on the link to the terms and conditions would be under the misleading impression that the entire weekend would be free of charge. The complaint was therefore upheld and Abcaz required to amend the promotional copy and email accordingly.
Why this matters:
It is interesting to contrast the ASA's approach in this case to the recently introduced E-Commerce Regulations. These are directly applicable to exactly the sort of communication dealt with here and also have particular provisions which emphasise the importance of clarity in promotional terms and conditions. The Government's guidance note on these regulations indicates that in an SMS/text context, it will be sufficient to provide the detailed terms and conditions for a promotion by way of a link to a website. In the context of material already on an Internet site or in an email, however, the regulations are not so clear, but the suspicion has to be that the enforcement approach under the E-Commerce Regulations is not likely to be very different to that of the ASA in this case. In other words, fundamental conditions placed on a promotional offer such as this should be clearly stated in the principal message, not left to terms and conditions which are a hyperlink click away.