A competition on Co-op's Facebook page, which ran during August 2011, stated "Are you a dab hand in the kitchen? A budding chef in the making? Design a sandwich in our unique competition and the winner will receive £1,000 in cash plus the sandwich will go on sale in our stores with their name on it! It's all in the making. Enter now ... Ts and Cs apply. See website for details".
The complainant, who was one of the competition finalists, challenged whether it had been administered fairly as they believed the winning entry had breached the terms and conditions.
Co-operative Group Ltd (Co-op) said that they received over 3,000 entries to the competition and from this, six sandwich designs were selected to appear on a microsite, within the Co-op website where the public could vote for their favourite entry.
Co-op said they had used cookie-based tracking to register votes for the competition which they considered was recognised by the digital marketing industry as the most reliable means of tracking the activity of individual internet users. They said that in the past few years, there was evidence that many internet users were becoming aware of how to delete cookies and therefore, there was a possibility that a member of the public could vote more than once if the cookies were disabled or cleared. However, the Co-op said they had carried out manual checks to remove any identifiable duplicate votes. The Co-op said that entrants to the competition had the option to enter their e-mail address when voting to enter a prize draw and duplicate votes were identifiable in these cases, however they said it would have been unfair and unjust to discount all of the votes where a voter had chosen not to enter the prize draw as it was extremely likely that a large majority of these votes had been genuine.
By the end of the public vote, they had received 7,018 votes in total and at this stage, disqualified any votes where the same e-mail address had been entered for the prize draw. After removing these, and other votes which were accrued in testing or submitted after the closing date, it was found that the eventual winner of the competition had won by 215 votes.
The Co-op said that in order to promote the six finalists, they drafted press releases for each of them and sent them to the regional press in each of the finalists' regions. They said they had no control over whether or not the press in a certain region would publish the release but that the winner and runner-up has both received press coverage during the course of the competition. They also said that the winner of the competition had been featured on a gadget website and this had increased her number of votes.
Co-op said that in order to further verify their decision not to disqualify votes made for the winner, they had considered the voting data and considered that no discernible voting pattern could be seen. They said that all of the finalists had received numerous votes across certain hours and days and there was no clear evidence that one finalist had received numerous votes from one source any more than any other finalist.
Co-op said they conducted the competition equitably and efficiently and dealt fairly and honourably with participants and it was conducted under proper supervision without giving consumers justifiable cause for complaint. They did say that they were aware that certain aspects of the procedure could, with hindsight, have been handled differently and said they had spoken with their external agencies to ensure that potential participants would clearly understand the nature of cookie-based tracking in similar competitions undertaken in the future.
Co-op also confirmed that the competition had now closed.
We noted that the complainant believed that the winner of the competition had received multiple votes throughout the course of the competition. We also noted that Co-op had used cookie-based tracking to register votes for the competition and that the rules of it stated that only one vote per person was permitted during the voting process. However, because Co-op conceded that this system was open to abuse, and that a member of the public could register more than one vote by disabling or clearing the cookies on their computer, we considered that the cookie-based tracking was not sufficiently robust to ensure that the 'one vote per person' rule could reliably be enforced. We noted that Co-op had taken some effort to remove duplicate votes where they could be identified by an e-mail address, which had been given for entry into a prize draw. However, as it was optional for voters to enter their e-mail address, we also noted that this action could not take into account any votes that had been made anonymously. Taking all of this together, we concluded that the competition had not been administered fairly.
The competition breached CAP Code (Edition 12) rules 8.2 8.2 Promoters must conduct their promotions equitably, promptly and efficiently and be seen to deal fairly and honourably with participants and potential participants. Promoters must avoid causing unnecessary disappointment. (Sales promotions) and 8.14 8.14 Promoters must ensure that their promotions are conducted under proper supervision and make adequate resources available to administer them. Promoters, agencies and intermediaries should not give consumers justifiable grounds for complaint. (Administration).
The competition must not be run again in the current format.