A national press ad and website listing for a Smart Plug, seen on 25 August 2018:
a. The national press ad, seen on the front page of The Mail on Sunday, featured a bright pink background with bold, uppercase text that read “FREE* SMART PLUG”. Below that was smaller text also in uppercase that read “TURN YOUR LIGHTS ON AND OFF BY REMOTE CONTROL!” followed by an image of the product and a roundel that stated “WORTH £19.99”. Smaller text, linked to the asterisk in the main claim, appeared underneath the product image and included the conditions “Online access, MyMail membership and 2,000 Nectar points required”. Inside the newspaper was a page that featured the headline "GET A FREE* SMART PLUG". Below that, text stated "Worth £19.99!" and, under a heading 'HOW TO CLAIM VIA MYMAIL', "3. Click 'Redeem' by Monday, December 17, spending 2,000 Nectar points". The asterisk in the headline claim led to small print at the bottom of the ad that read "Online access, MyMail membership and 2,000 Nectar Points required for MyMail redemption".
b. The website www.mymail.co.uk, featured the heading "FREE* SMART PLUG - WORTH £19.99" followed by text that stated "You need: 1 Unique Number & 2,000 Nectar points". The web page included the same information regarding 'HOW TO CLAIM' and the same small print text linked to the asterisk as the press ad.
The complainants, who believed the smart plug was not free as it required the expenditure of 2,000 Nectar points, challenged whether the ads were misleading.
DMG Media Ltd t/a The Mail on Sunday (DMG Media) said that consumers could collect Nectar points when they purchased copies of the Daily Mail or The Mail on Sunday and that those points were provided at no extra cost since the price of the newspapers had not increased. They said the value of a Nectar Point at the points of collection and redemption fluctuated as it was determined by participating retailers, and because of that they could not be considered analogous to ‘payment’. They said the use of Nectar points had stipulations placed on it that cash and/or monetary payments did not, which further demonstrated that the use of Nectar points was not equivalent to payment. They also believed the significant terms of the offer had been communicated in ads (a) and (b), and that both ads made it sufficiently clear that an expenditure of 2,000 Nectar points was needed to benefit from the promotion.
The ASA noted that the first reference to the “free” plug was on the front page of the newspaper (ad (a)). On a bright pink background, the main text read “FREE* SMART PLUG”. Below that, slightly smaller text – still in block capitals – described how the product worked, followed by an image of the product and a roundel that stated “WORTH £19.99”. Smaller text, linked by the asterisk to the “free” claim, appeared underneath the product image and included the conditions “Online access, MyMail membership and 2,000 Nectar points required”. Inside the newspaper a page that included further information about the offer was headed “GET A FREE* SMART PLUG” and again showed an image of the product and a roundel that read “Worth £19.99”. This page contained within it a section headed “HOW TO CLAIM VIA MYMAIL” with a list of steps, including: “1. Join or sign in to your account at mymail.co.uk … 2. Enter the Unique Number from the back page of today’s Mail on Sunday … 3. Click ‘Redeem’ by Monday December 17, spending 2,000 Nectar points …”.
We considered consumers would understand the information on the front page of the newspaper to mean that buying it would enable them to obtain the smart plug without incurring costs beyond the unavoidable cost of responding to the offer and collecting or paying for delivery of the plug. The process for responding to the offer was set out in detail inside the newspaper and, while we accepted consumers would understand that in order to obtain the smart plug they would need to use a MyMail account and spend 2,000 Nectar points, that did not alter the impression that buying the paper would provide them with the number of points required to redeem the offer.
We understood that Nectar points could be redeemed to receive a wide range of benefits and discounts and we considered they clearly had value – regardless of what the specific value ascribed to them at the points of collection and redemption were. We considered that it was therefore not the case that anything purchased using the points could be described as ‘free’. If readers of the newspaper had received 2,000 Nectar points when entering into their MyMail account the unique code they received with their paper, so that the MyMail/Nectar scheme was being used only as a mechanism to facilitate the administration of the offer, we considered that it would have been acceptable to describe the plug as “free”. However, buying the newspaper only granted consumers 15 points. To respond to the offer, consumers had to use Nectar points obtained from activities other than the purchase of the paper. We considered that the offer therefore required a level of commitment from consumers that went beyond the unavoidable cost of responding, collecting, or paying for delivery of the plug.
Ad (b) was a slightly different version of the text inside the newspaper in ad (a) and was seen in the “offers” section of the MyMail website. The headline on the relevant page stated “FREE* SMART PLUG - WORTH £19.99”. Below that was an image of the product, to the right of which was a text box, within which the text read “You need: 1 Unique Number & 2,000 Nectar points”. Information under the heading “HOW TO CLAIM” made clear that consumers required a unique code that could only be obtained in the 26 August edition of the Mail on Sunday. However, as noted above, buying that edition of the newspaper did not generate sufficient points to enable consumers to obtain the plug.
Because the offer required a commitment from consumers that went beyond the unavoidable cost of responding, collecting, or paying for delivery of the “free” item, we concluded that ads (a) and (b) were likely to mislead.
The ads breached CAP Code (Edition 12) rule 3.1 3.1 Marketing communications must not materially mislead or be likely to do so. (Misleading advertising).
The offer must not appear again in the form complained of. We told DMG Media Ltd to ensure that future marketing communications did not use the term “free” to describe items that could not be purchased with the number of Nectar points obtainable by responding to the offer.