Summary of Council decision
Two issues were investigated, both of which were Upheld.
A TV ad and website for Sky Bet:
a. The TV ad included a grid which featured one box stating "£10 FREE BET" and 29 boxes containing the text "£5 FREE BET" and a voice-over which stated, "Enjoy a brand new sign up offer at Sky Bet. Claim £10 completely free plus £5 free every week until the end of the season", whilst on-screen text stated "New customers only. Free bets non-withdrawable" and then "Existing Sky Bet/Poker/Vegas/Bingo account holders excluded". The voice-over continued, "Use your free bets online or on your mobile Why not check out our new football coupons and place a weekly accumulator?", whilst on-screen text stated "Stake £5 weekly to qualify for £5 weekly free bet until end of football season"; the voice-over then continued, "Claim your £10 completely free and £5 free every week at Sky Bet. Just download from the app store or go to [website] now."
b. The website www.skybet.com featured a display ad which stated "Join now and claim £10 completely free today + £5 free every week". A click-through link labelled "join now" was provided. On following the link users were led to a separate landing page where they were invited to enter their details in order to join Sky Bet. Text stated "Register today and claim your £10 completely free bet Plus earn £5 free bet every week!".
The complainant challenged whether:
1. ad (a) was misleading because it failed to make sufficiently clear that it was necessary to pay £5 every week in order to qualify for the free £5 bet; and
2. ad (b) was misleading because it failed to make sufficiently clear that it was necessary to pay £5 every week in order to qualify for the free £5 bet.
1. Bonne Terre t/a Sky Bet (Bonne Terre) believed the ad clearly presented the £5 stake requirements. They said it was standard for many betting industry promotional offers to include minimum staking amounts before customers could qualify for a promotional offer and that this promotion was no different. They said these offers were extremely common throughout the betting industry and that most, if not all, worked and were advertised in the same way. They also said that qualifications were laid out in the terms and conditions and that particularly significant ones were highlighted through on- screen text in the ad.
They stated that rather than relying on "Terms and Conditions apply", which had become accepted industry practice, in this case they took a step further and explicitly set out that customers must "Stake £5 weekly to qualify for £5 weekly free bet until end of the football season". They said this information was provided alongside other important pieces of information such as the eligibility conditions and other requirements and that presenting the on-screen text on the £5 free bet offer after the voice-over gave viewers a better chance to view and understand the offer. They believed this did not contradict the voice-over claims, but rather clarified a significant term in explicit detail so as not to mislead and to comply with the BCAP Code.
Clearcast said that when assessing the script for this ad, they noted there was a requirement to stake £5 every week in order to qualify for the weekly £5 free bet. They said this was clearly qualified with the on-screen text which stated "Stake £5 weekly to qualify for £5 weekly free bet until end of the football season" and therefore believed the advertisers had made the nature of the offer sufficiently clear and that consumers were unlikely to be misled. They said that because there was a requirement for on-screen text to appear on screen for a specific amount of time, the on-screen text qualifying the free-bet offer had to appear slightly behind the offer. However, they considered that this on-screen text qualification was self-explanatory and considered that people would understand the nature of the offer. They believed that if on-screen text had appeared before the reference to the free bet, viewers would not have heard the actual offer that it was clarifying and that it may not have been as easily understood.
2. They said that the banner ad appeared on the Sky Bet website, which was a targeted medium and that visitors would have an understanding of this common type of staking promotion. They also said that when non-registered users to the site clicked through to ‘Step two’ of registration, there was a link to the promotional terms and conditions which clearly set out the £5 stake requirement and other qualification terms before the customer finished their registration and qualified for the offer. They said it was never their intention to mislead potential customers with this promotion and that they had not received any other complaints. They said whilst they did provide a link clarifying the terms and conditions, in light of the complaint they would provide a landing page when users clicked on the online ad so the information was one-click away.
The ASA noted the TV ad (a) was specifically targeted at new customers and that this was indicated through the voice-over "Enjoy a brand new sign-up offer at Sky Bet". Although some individuals who were familiar with the types of offers made in relation to betting services may be aware that "free bet" offers were likely to be subject to significant conditions, because this ad appeared in an untargeted medium and was aimed specifically at new customers, we considered that such conditions would need to be made clear in the ad. On-screen text in the ad provided information about the conditions of the "free bet" offer and specifically stated that a £5 weekly stake was required to qualify for the "free bet offer". We understood the complainant considered that not only was the qualifying information not presented clearly, but that the reference to the offer as a "free bet" was in itself misleading because consumers needed to stake a significant amount of their own money and that the on-screen text therefore contradicted rather than clarified the "free bet" claim. Although "stake match" would have been a more accurate description of the offer, we considered the wording of the condition was adequate to qualify the claim and made clear the extent of the consumer commitment without creating a contradiction. However, we noted the text qualification was not on screen at the same time as the voice-over and visual reference to the "free bet" element of offer. We understood the requirement that each piece of on-screen text information be displayed for a minimum amount of time and that, because of other significant information that also needed to be displayed, this resulted in the £5 stake requirement appearing after the voice-over and visual references to the offer. However, we considered the condition that participants staked £5 of their own money each and every week for the remainder of the season (which was in excess of ten weeks at the point at which the complainant saw the ad) in order to claim the £5 bet each week was so significant that it needed to be clearly stated in the ad and that, because the only qualifying information was available as on-screen text, it should have appeared at the same time as the voice-over and images on screen which referred to the "free bet" element of the offer.
We therefore considered that the qualifying information was not displayed with sufficient prominence and therefore concluded that the ad was misleading.
On this point the ad breached BCAP Code rules
Advertisements must not materially mislead or be likely to do so.
Advertisements must not mislead consumers 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 consumers need in context to make informed decisions about whether or how to buy a product or service. Whether the omission or presentation of material information is likely to mislead consumers depends on the context, the medium and, if the medium of the advertisement is constrained by time or space, the measures that the advertiser takes to make that information available to consumers by other means. (Misleading advertising) and 3.10 3.10 Advertisements must state significant limitations and qualifications. Qualifications may clarify but must not contradict the claims that they qualify. (Qualifications).
We welcomed the suggested changes to the website to ensure the qualifying information was one-click away from the banner ad in which the claim appeared. Although "stake match" would have been a more accurate description of the offer, we considered the wording of the condition was adequate to qualify the claim and made clear the extent of the consumer commitment. However, we noted this information was not at least one-click away from the advertised offer and that the banner ad in which the offer appeared did not provide any information to indicate that there were conditions that had to be met in order to qualify for the offer. We considered that the qualifying information was not presented with sufficient prominence and concluded that the ad was therefore misleading.
On this point the ad breached CAP Code (Edition 12) rules
Advertisements 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), 3.9 3.9 Marketing communications must state significant limitations and qualifications. Qualifications may clarify but must not contradict the claims that they qualify. 310 (Qualification) and 8.17.1 8.17.1 How to participate
How to participate, including significant conditions and costs, and other major factors reasonably likely to influence consumers' decision or understanding about the promotion 8.18 8.18 Marketing communications that include a promotion and are significantly limited by time or space must include as much information about significant conditions as practicable and must direct consumers clearly to an easily accessible alternative source where all the significant conditions of the promotion are prominently stated. Participants should be able to retain those conditions or easily access them throughout the promotion. (Sales promotions).
The ad should not appear again in its current form. We told Bonne Terre to ensure qualifications for ‘Free Bet’ offers were clearly presented in future ads.