“Free trials” can be a great incentive to draw in new customers and are offered in a wide range of sectors, from food and entertainment to beauty and leisure. While consumers are feeling the pinch of increased cost of living, free trials of subscriptions for a whole host of products can become more and more appealing. Increased demand at such an otherwise difficult time can be a blessing, but marketers must always make very clear to potential customers exactly what it is they are entering into.
Here are some top tips on advertising “free trials” responsibly.
When can you use the phrase “free trial”?
The CAP Code (rule 3.26) states that ads must not use the term “free trial” to describe “satisfaction or your money back” offers, or offers for which a non-refundable purchase is required.
In order to use the phrase “free trial”, whatever is being offered must be genuinely ‘free’ to the consumer. If there is an additional ‘delivery’ element to a free trial, it is acceptable to charge the genuine, un-inflated cost of postage – but you can’t charge for packing, packaging, handling or admin fees if you want to claim that it’s ‘free’.
Make sure significant conditions are included upfront…
It’s important that consumers are aware of exactly what the arrangement is that they’re entering into and the extent of the commitment they must make. Therefore, all material information and significant conditions must be made clear upfront.
This includes, but is not limited to;
- what a consumer needs to do to take up the free trial;
- whether a paid subscription starts automatically (after the trial) unless cancelled;
- how and when to cancel, if the arrangements for doing so differ from what consumers might reasonably expect;
- the extent of the financial commitment if the subscription is not cancelled during the trial; and
- any other significant conditions: for example, the end date for starting the “free trial” or limitations on who can take up the ‘free trial’ such as new customers only.
… and aren’t hidden away
Significant conditions must be made clear upfront and with sufficient prominence that consumers will see them before choosing to participate in the ‘free trial’. This usually means placing them near the claim or calls to action.
As with all promotions, simply stating “T&Cs apply”, “See website for terms” or similar, is unlikely to be considered sufficient to make the relevant conditions clear to consumers.
For more details, see our guidance on free trial and other promotional offer subscription models. If you would like advice on specific non-broadcast ads for a free trial offer, CAP offers a free bespoke Copy Advice service, so feel free to get in touch.