“10% off everything*” said Mothercare, but everything it wasn’t. Could the faithful asterisk come to their rescue?
Who: Mothercare UK Ltd and the Advertising Standards Authority
When: February 2001
In a gatefold leaflet Mothercare claimed "10% off everything* Thursday 7th December (exclusions apply)."
An asterisked footnote inside the leaflet stated "Exclusions apply, see terms and conditions for full details." The full terms and conditions themselves said that the discount did not apply to various specified items. Following a complaint that the leaflet was misleading and breached the British Code of Advertising, Mothercare argued that the headline was clearly qualified. The ASA, however, held that because the footnote effectively contradicted the headline, no amount of asterisks and clarifying statements prevented the "10% off everything" claim from being misleading. The complaint was upheld.
Why this matters:
When it comes to asterisked headlines and footnotes, both the courts, in for instance consumer credit advertising cases, and the ASA, have consistently taken the position that if the footnote is merely clarifying or giving more detail about a headline claim, all well and good. If the small print contradicts the headline, however, far from helpfully clarifying the position, it highlights the fact that the main claim is misleading. This can lead at best to a "complaint upheld" finding by the ASA and at worst to a successful prosecution under for example the Consumer Protection Act.