A leaflet for Beer52 Ltd seen on 23 June 2017 featured text that stated “FREE CASE of craft beer Exclusive free pack of 8 craft beers from the UK’s No.1 craft beer club!” and featured a red bubble with the text “£5.95 P&P”. Text at the bottom of the leaflet stated “To claim go to: www.beer52.com/GRUMM10 USE CODE: GRUMM10 Normally £24”.
On the other side of the leaflet featured further text that stated, “Beer52 is an online community for lovers of craft beer. Each month we enjoy 8 delicious beers, handpicked by our experts from microbreweries around the world …”. At the top was a white bubble with the text “Claim your free 8 pack today” and further down was text that stated “How to claim your exclusive free pack of eight craft beers 1 Claim Go to your unique URL and enter your code. 2 Choose Set your taste preferences. 3 Next day We deliver, you enjoy”. The bottom of the leaflet stated, “This voucher is valid for UK residents aged 18 or over, and entitles you to a free crate of beer from Beer52. Delivery is free, so there are no hidden charges, and crates cost £24 each month. This voucher can only be used once, and cannot be combined with other vouchers or promotions. You are under no obligation to continue, memberships can be cancelled at any time. Full terms at beer52.com”.
The complainant, who discovered that they were required to enrol on a paid-for subscription to claim their “free” crate of beer, challenged whether that had been made sufficiently clear in the ad.
Beer52 Ltd stated that the advertised promotion had now ended and was an isolated design. They believed that they always made it clear to consumers that all of their promotions required consumers to join their club, but were always free to cancel if they wished to do so.
Beer52 referred to how the leaflet stated "Crates cost £24 each month” and “You are under no obligation to continue, memberships can be cancelled at any time. Full terms at Beer52.com”. Furthermore, their full terms and conditions (T&Cs) stated “Our craft beer club subscription is billed every 28 days unless otherwise stated, for a total number of 13 boxes per year. You must give at least 2 days’ notice before cancelling your subscription to avoid being charged for your next billing cycle, which will automatically take place upon completion of your original subscription. Please note that we require 24 hours to process your first order before you'll be able to cancel your account”.
Beer52 stated that when consumers visited the website www.beer52.com/gruum, as shown on the voucher, they would see the text “Your order is an 8-pack of mixed & surprising beers on a rolling monthly plan […] £5.95 today, then £24 per month from 06/09/2017 … The ‘Free 8 Pack + £5.95 Delivery / Insert / GRUUM voucher is applied! … 21 day money back guarantee Cancel anytime …”. Furthermore, consumers had to agree to the general T&Cs before confirming their order. Beer52 believed that this clarified to consumers how the offer worked and therefore were unlikely to be misled.
The ASA understood that in order for consumers to claim their free crate of beer they had to agree to enrol onto a paid-for subscription service costing £24 per month, and to avoid that cost consumers had to cancel their subscription at least two days before the 28-day billing period.
We considered that this was material information likely to affect a consumer’s transactional decision to pursue their interest in taking advantage of the free offer. Therefore, it needed to be presented from the outset in the leaflet before consumers visited the beer52 website.
The front of the leaflet stated in large red text “FREE CASE of craft beer”, and below that was the further text “free pack” in a black bold font. Furthermore, at the bottom of the leaflet was the website address consumers had to visit to claim their free crate of beer. However, we noted that no information regarding how consumers had to enrol onto a paid-for subscription service in order to take advantage of the free offer was presented.
On the other side of the leaflet featured a white bubble with the text “Claim your free 8 pack today”. Further down was the text “How to claim your exclusive free pack of eight craft beers” and below that explained with graphical content, which we considered clearly stood out, the step-by-step process consumers had to follow. We considered that because of the further reference to the free crate of beer and the prominent graphical content regarding what consumers had to do to obtain their free beer, this side of the leaflet also needed to make sufficiently clear that the offer was conditional upon consumers agreeing to subscribe to a paid-for membership service, which also needed to be given sufficient prominence.
The bottom of the leaflet included small print which stated, “This voucher … entitles you to a free crate of beer from Beer52. Delivery is free, so there are no hidden charges, and crates cost £24 each month. This voucher can only be used once, and cannot be combined with other vouchers or promotions. You are under no obligation to continue, memberships can be cancelled at any time. Full terms at beer52.com”. However, we considered that this did not make sufficiently clear that consumers would be joining a paid-for subscription service upon claiming their free crate of beer, where they would be billed £24 every 28 days unless they cancelled their subscription at least two days prior to the billing date. Notwithstanding that, we noted that the small print was not referenced alongside the free claims, i.e. with an asterisk. Furthermore, given we considered that the graphical content showing how consumers could claim their free crate of beer had clearly stood out, we considered that the requirement for consumers to subscribe to a paid-for subscription should have been clearly presented directly underneath it and linked with an asterisk, rather than in small print located at the bottom of the leaflet.
Because we considered that the leaflet had not made sufficiently clear that consumers had to enrol onto a paid-for subscription service in order to take advantage of the “free” offer, we concluded that it was misleading.
The ad breached CAP Code (Edition 12) rules
Marketing communications must not materially mislead or be likely to do so.
Marketing communications must not mislead the consumer by omitting material information. They must not mislead by hiding material information or presenting it in an unclear, unintelligible, ambiguous or untimely manner.
Material information is information that the consumer needs to make informed decisions in relation to a product. Whether the omission or presentation of material information is likely to mislead the consumer depends on the context, the medium and, if the medium of the marketing communication is constrained by time or space, the measures that the marketer takes to make that information available to the consumer by other means. (Misleading advertising) and 3.9 3.9 Marketing communications must state significant limitations and qualifications. Qualifications may clarify but must not contradict the claims that they qualify. and 3.10 3.10 Qualifications must be presented clearly.
CAP has published a Help Note on Claims that Require Qualification. (Qualification).
The ad must not appear again in its current form. We told Beer52 Ltd to ensure that their advertising made sufficiently clear and prominently presented the condition that consumers taking advantage of their “free” crate of beer offer would be enrolling on a paid-for subscription contract.