Today, we published a new Enforcement Notice about the digital advertising of “free trials” and other promotional subscription models.
In recent years, the subscription market has seen huge growth, in part accelerated by lockdown. Consumers can choose from a wide variety of subscription services to suit their interests and lifestyles, with those offering them ranging from comparatively small start-ups to high-profile companies. Research from Citizens Advice has found that three in four people in the UK (73%) have at least one subscription, while one in four (26%) have signed up to a subscription service by accident, in most instances, because they didn’t get round to cancelling a free trial.
A dataset captured by our Data Science team in late 2022 indicated that some advertisers are not complying with our 2017 guidance on “free trials” or other promotional subscription models.
We are therefore issuing an Enforcement Notice to ensure companies offering subscription services understand how to promote their products and services in a compliant way.
What should advertisers do?
In summary, ads for a “free trial” or other promotional subscription offer must communicate all significant conditions likely to affect a consumer’s decision to participate.
If significant conditions are not displayed with sufficient prominence, the ad is likely to break the rules. This means “T&Cs apply” is not sufficient; the significant conditions must be stated in the ad.
Ads must make clear:
- Whether a paid subscription starts automatically (after the trial) unless cancelled
- The extent of the financial commitment if the subscription is not cancelled (during the trial), and
- Any other significant conditions: for example, costs to participate.
With regard to the placement of significant conditions, advertisers must ensure that significant conditions:
- Are immediately visible, prominent and distinct from other information (pop-ups are not sufficient);
- Immediately follow the most prominent references to the trial or offer;
- Are clear and legible both in size and clarity of font
From Thursday 27 April 2023, the Compliance team will take targeted enforcement action to ensure non-compliant ads for free trials or promotional subscription models are amended or removed, helping to secure a level-playing-field.
For full details, please see our Enforcement Notice. If you advertise a subscription service, please review the Notice and take immediate steps to check your advertising and make any changes needed.
If you would like advice about a specific ad, CAP has a range of services to help you stick to the rules, including free bespoke Copy Advice.