The Christmas shopping frenzy might leave consumers panicked and a little disorientated in the face of countless sales promotions, yet they are determined to buy buy buy in the pre- and post-Christmas sales. Many even shop online on Christmas day (between gorging on mince pies and re-runs of Elf) to seek out that ultimate price reduction, two-for-one, or discounted health spa retreat to help buoy against the inevitable seasonal slump.
Terms and conditions
If you’re marketing a temporary promotion to incentivise people to buy, make sure you communicate all applicable significant conditions in the ad itself, the omission of which is likely to mislead. Significant conditions might include a closing date and stating how consumers can participate. Changing your terms and conditions willy nilly is best avoided.
There will always be consumers who are (or feel) disadvantaged, especially those rushing to participate before a stated closing date, only to find that closing date has changed. Terms and conditions should only be changed if there are matters outside of your control which mean that an amendment is unavoidable. But be sure to signpost your actions clearly for consumers, and be prepared with solid and justifiable reasoning in the event of an ASA investigation.
A Moneysupermarket.com prize draw wasn’t up to scratch when the closing date for a promotion, which allowed everyone who entered to have a child's drawing made into a Christmas card, was extended to allow more children to benefit. Even though the promotion contained a condition stating that Moneysupermarket.com reserved the right to extend the closing date, the ASA ruled that the promotion was not administered properly (Moneysupermarket.com Ltd). To be clear, including a condition such as “The promoter reserves the right to suspend, cancel or modify the [prize draw/competiton/other] at any time (and for any reason) without notice” doesn’t allow you free reign.
In a situation where customers have tried to abuse a system, marketers may have a cause to amend terms, as Amazon did when they made a Christmas and Boxing Day offer on MP3 Music Downloads. The offer was limited to one per customer but consumers managed to make multiple purchases. Amazon took steps to correct this by changing the promotion mechanic, which the ASA considered was justified. They had also taken reasonable steps to ensure that consumers were made aware of the change by including a statement update on their website (Amazon.co.uk Ltd).
If you’re offering a voucher or some other incentive for consumers to sign up to your service in the new year, make sure you fulfill your obligation in good time. Sky said that the delay in sending forty two consumers their £50 M&S vouchers, was due to large numbers of customers joining over the Christmas period, human error and vouchers being lost in the post, but this was not considered satisfactory by the ASA (British Sky Broadcasting Ltd).
It is of course the time of year consumers start planning their holidays or better yet, hoping to win one. In the Discovery Communications Europe Ltd case the ad stated that the prize included "Return flights for 4 people (2 adults and 2 children (under 18))", but the terms and conditions stated that the holiday could not be taken during any school holidays. The promotion was clearly targeted at families, and the terms and conditions prohibited the winning family from taking the holiday unless children were removed from school during term time. Therefore, the ASA concluded that the promotion was administered unfairly and breached the Code.
As far as your post-Christmas price reductions are concerned, remember that when reviewing price statements, the ASA and CAP will take the Department for Business Innovation & Skills (BIS) Pricing Practices Guide into account. In short:
- A price used as a basis for a comparison should have been the most recent price available for 28 consecutive days or more. If the previous higher (or “was”) price was charged for only 14 days for example, the ad should make this clear.
- In general, the period of time for which the new (lower) price will be available should not be more than that for which the old (higher) price was available.
- Comparisons made with prices last offered more than six months ago may be unacceptable.
So, the key is to include as much relevant information about a promotion as possible so that consumers aren’t misled; only change terms and conditions if you have no choice; don’t encourage consumers to take their children out of school for a family holiday; familiarise yourself with the BIS Pricing Practices Guide. Above all, while many of us may like a tipple over the festive period, try to keep it on the straight and narrow and avoid claims like “F**k My Liver Hip Flask” (URBN UK Ltd, see Alcohol, Social responsibility and Offence: Language).
If you require bespoke advice on your non-broadcast promotions, contact the CAP Copy Advice team on 0207 492 2100 or submit your enquiry via our website.