Rules for an art competition promoting Twentieth Century Fox’s “Abraham Lincoln, Vampire Hunter” allowed rejection of entries involving “improper actions.” Entries via social media generated suspicious voting activity and were rejected. Tom Harding reports the ASA ‘s verdict on the rejection.
Topic: Social media
Who: Twentieth Century Fox Film Company Limited and the Advertising Standards Authority
When: October 2012
Law stated as at: November 2012
As readers of marketinglaw.co.uk will no doubt be aware, social media and user generated content are increasingly commonplace elements in promotional competitions.
'Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter' is, according to Wikipedia, 'a 2012 American action fantasy horror film based on the 2010 mashup novel of the same name'. If you've not seen it, and to try give you a better feel for the movie, according to Alex Zane in the Sun 'This film’s title is excellent … yet sadly the movie isn’t nearly as much fun'. Anyway, to celebrate the films's release, an online art competition was run on www.freshbloodhunt.co.uk. The brief was to design an art piece inspired by the film, and then upload it to the site. Prizes included a MacBook Pro and that the winning entry would be painted by a street artist as a mural in Shoreditch.
There were different entry routes, with one of these being via social media – an entry would make the 'Winners Gallery' shortlist if it was 'one of the top two most liked and shared entries.' Regardless of the initial entry method however, all shortlisted entries were to be put to a public vote, with the entry that received the most votes being the winner.
One of the complainants entered the competition and then made the 'Winners Gallery' shortlist as one of the most liked/shared social media entries. The entry then went on to receive the most online votes, but was subsequently disqualified due to an irregular voting pattern.
The 'winner' complained about this rejection, saying that she had been treated unfairly and citing reasons including that that the eventual winner had a similar voting pattern to her.
The ASA investigated looking at Rules 8.2 and 8.14 (Sales Promotions) and 8.27 (Sales Promotions).
Nightmare on Voting Street
Bulldog Digital ran the online competition. They stated that they had taken 'various measures throughout the competition to ensure that it was run in a fair manner … including IP locking mechanics on the voting system to help ensure the legitimacy of votes' and also had a team dedicated to organising the competition.
Bulldog explained that on the final day of voting, the leading entry received a large number of votes between 11pm and 3am. Many of these were supplied without any names or email addresses and came from the same IP address. There was also a large disparity between the number of votes the entry received and the number of social media likes/shares/Tweets it initially gained.
Suspecting foul play, Bulldog therefore disqualified the entry under clause 14 of the competition T&Cs – 'Prizes are awarded at 20th Century Fox and/or Bullfrog Digital Ltd's discretion and no prizes will be awarded as a result of improper actions be or on behalf of any entrant.'
A (Partial) Pattison on the Back
The ASA considered that 'the combination of irregularities with the complainant's votes provided reasonable grounds for the decision not to award the prize in accordance with the terms and conditions.' The promotion did not therefore breach the Code, and the complaint was not upheld.
However, as a lesson for all promoters of prizes/competitions, the ASA did say in the adjudication that it would have been 'preferable' for the competition terms and conditions to 'have set out what might constitute "improper actions"' as irregular voting was not specifically called out as part of this.
Why this matters:
There are some good learning points and reminders here for all marketers running competitions and prize promotions involving social media and user generated content. Firstly, ensure that promotion Ts&Cs include provisions allowing for the disqualification of entries. Secondly, where possible set out what may trigger such disqualification – in this case, suspected voting irregularities.
It was possible for Bullfrog to identify the irregularities in this case due to its tracking technology, but if for example, a competition is run purely on social media, promoters should ensure that their terms and conditions are sufficiently widely drawn to cater for abuses by entrants.