Does a promotional ‘giveaway’ have to come 100% free? And does ‘limited edition exclusive’ cover a product inferior to what you find in the shops?
Topic: Promotion marketing
Who: The Daily Mirror and The Sun
Where: The Advertising Standards Authority and OFCOM
When: June/July 2004
Two national tabloids were challenged and found wanted on wording used in promotional claims.
"One million flights giveaway"
The Passenger Shipping Association and the Consumers' Association objected to an ad in the Daily Mirror for a cheap flights promotion. The headline text stated "One million flights giveaway." The body copy stated "we have a million flights to over 30 destinations in Europe from the UK and Ireland – all you need to do is pay for the taxes, fees and airport charges". The complainant maintained that the word "giveaway" was commonly used to mean "free" and therefore challenged the claim "One million flights giveaway" as being misleading because taxes and charges still had to be paid for.
In defence Ryanair, whose flights were being promoted, maintained that "giveaway" implied only "to sell very cheaply." The Daily Mirror said the claim had been approved by the Committee of Advertising Practice. They also said that TV and Radio commercials and features in the Mirror before the promotion and on the launch day had made clear that participants would have to pay taxes, fees and charges.
In its reply, the ASA noted that the CAP copy advice team had not "approved" the claim in writing and did not have a record of any advice given over the telephone. It acknowledge that as well as "free", "giveaway" could mean "a price that is very low" or "very cheap". The regulator considered, however, that the headline was ambiguous in that consumers might infer that the flights offered in the "giveaway" were free. It also noted that because customers who chose flights that departed on Fridays and Saturdays were charged an additional weekend supplement of £20 each way, weekend flights to some destinations in the promotion were not even cheap compared with weekend flights available after the promotion.
In conclusion, the Authority considered that the flights available through the promotion were neither "free" nor, in some cases, "very cheap". Accordingly the headline was misleading and the Daily Mirror was told not to claim or imply that flights were given away unless they could prove that no taxes or charges were passed on to consumers.
"Limited edition exclusive"
Ofcom dealt with a complaint in respect of a TV advertisement for a PC game promotion run by The Sun newspaper. This offered £170 worth of PC games, including a Simpsons "Hit and Run" game said to be a "limited edition exclusive."
Viewers who took advantage of the Simpsons offer complained that the game was no more than a demo which had far fewer features than the shop-bought version. As if to underline this, the game as supplied to those who responded to the promotion was actually labelled "demo."
In its response, the Sun admitted that the "limited edition exclusive" game was in fact "level 1 of the full retail version of the game" and it did not contain the entirety of the retail version. It also said that the "demo" label on the game as supplied had appeared in error, since the version as supplied was certainly playable.
"Limited edition means less features" defence
In perhaps its most audacious defence, The Sun argued that the reference "limited edition exclusive" was intended to make clear that the features on offer with the game supplied via The Sun offer were limited as compared to the features that viewers would get in the shops.
The BACC, which had pre-cleared the advertisement for broadcast, said it had been assured in writing at script stage that all games on offer were full games and not just highlights.
In its verdict, Ofcom considered that there was insufficient advice to viewers in the ad that the Simpsons Hit and Run game had limited features compared to the shop-bought version and that the advertising ought to have made this clear. It also regarded the term "limited edition exclusive" to be commonly understood to relate to limited stock levels, being not usually used to warn viewers that the product was of inferior quality as compared to other versions available elsewhere.
The ad was held to be in breach of the Advertising Standards Code and ordered not to be shown again in its current form.
Why this matters:
The rules for promotional claims are the same as for all other advertising copy. They must not mislead, even if the advertiser may think that the position is made crystal clear elsewhere in the advertisement, as might be said to have been the case with the Mirror "One million flights giveaway" ad.
The Ofcom verdict on The Sun ad underlines that if a product available in a promotion differs materially from the same product as sold in the shops, this must be made clear and that phrases such as 'Limited edition exclusive' will not do the trick.