Summary of Council decision:
Two issues were investigated, both of which were Upheld.
A tweet from Alton Towers Resort, seen on 12 March 2018, featured text which stated "Don't miss our cracking Easter short break offer - where Kids Go FREE! Stay overnight with breakfast included, enjoy early access to selected rides and get your 2nd Day FREE in the Theme Park - all from just £55pp. Book before 15th April 2018".
The complainant, who understood that the cheapest hotel stay was priced at £80 per person, challenged whether the claims:
1. “from just £55pp” was misleading and could be substantiated; and
2. “Kids Go FREE” was misleading because they understood that it was cheaper to travel without children.
1. & 2. Merlin Entertainments Ltd t/a Alton Towers said that the campaign ran from 8 March 2018 to 15 April 2018 with stay dates available during the Easter holidays. They provided a copy of the terms and conditions which stated “Kids Go FREE between 23rd March - 15th April, 25th May - 2 June 2018 and 20th July - 2nd September 2018. Valid at the Alton Towers Hotel, Enchanted Village Woodland Lodges, Splash Landings Hotel, CBeebies Land Hotel and Nearby Partner Hotels. One child aged under 12 goes FREE into the Theme Park only per full paying adult. Excludes 30th March, 31st March, 7th April and 14th April at Nearby Partner Hotels…Lead price of £55 per person/£219 per family is based on two adults and two children sharing a standard room at Splash Landings Hotel on selected dates”. They stated that the tweet could have made clearer that the element of the package that was free related to the theme park entry only and had now removed the promotion.
Alton Towers also provided information which they believed showed that a reasonable proportion of stays were available at the lead price of £55 across the resort and offsite hotels during the travel period. Alton Towers stated that the availability of rooms differed per day based on rooms having already been sold through separate sales channels prior to the promotion.
The ASA noted that the tweet was posted by Alton Towers Resort’s official Twitter page. We considered that consumers would understand the text “Stay overnight with breakfast included, enjoy early access to selected rides and get your 2nd day FREE in the Theme Park - all from just £55pp" that a significant proportion of short breaks during the full Easter break period would be available at £55 per person when booked before 15 April 2018 at the Alton Towers Resort hotels. Whilst we considered that consumers would understand that not all tickets would be priced at £55 per person, they would expect to have a reasonable chance of purchasing a short break offer for travel throughout the Easter period at the stated price.
We noted the availability data Alton Towers provided showed that resort room availability differed across the period because some had been sold through separate sales channels before the promotion, as they had stated. We noted that the proportion of rooms available at the lead price of £55 was at its highest before Good Friday (30 March), at which point the availability at that price dropped considerably to 6% of available rooms, dropping to 2% availability on Easter Monday (2 April). The proportion of available rooms at £55 was no higher than 8% until 7 April. We considered this period of eight days to include the most focal week of the Easter break period and we had not seen sufficient evidence to demonstrate that a significant proportion of stays were available to book for £55 in a relatively even spread across the travel period.
On that basis, we concluded that the ad breached the Code.
On that point, the ad breached CAP Code (Edition 12) Rules 3.1 3.1 Marketing communications must not materially mislead or be likely to do so. (Misleading advertising), 3.7 3.7 Before distributing or submitting a marketing communication for publication, marketers must hold documentary evidence to prove claims that consumers are likely to regard as objective and that are capable of objective substantiation. The ASA may regard claims as misleading in the absence of adequate substantiation. (Substantiation) and 3.28 3.28 Marketing communications that quote a price for a featured product must state any reasonable grounds the marketer has for believing that it might not be able to supply the advertised (or an equivalent) product at the advertised price within a reasonable period and in reasonable quantities. In particular: (Availability).
We considered that consumers would understand the claim "Don't miss our cracking Easter short break offer - where Kids Go FREE!" to mean that there was no charge connected with the entirety of a child's stay when booked alongside an adult. We noted that further text stated “get your 2nd day FREE in the Theme Park”, and we understood that the “Kids Go FREE” claim was intended to refer to that second day in the theme park. However, we considered it could have been seen as additional part of the offer, and was not sufficient to override the impression created by the “Kids Go Free” claim.
While we acknowledged that Alton Towers had provided one example of a short break booking including children which cost the same as one without, the terms and conditions made clear that the “free” offer was only intended for one child aged under 12 to go free into the theme park when accompanying a full paying adult, and that there was usually a charge associated with a child's hotel stay and breakfast. We therefore concluded that the ad was misleading.
On that point, the ad breached CAP Code (Edition 12) rules 3.1 3.1 Marketing communications must not materially mislead or be likely to do so. (Misleading advertising) and 3.7 3.7 Before distributing or submitting a marketing communication for publication, marketers must hold documentary evidence to prove claims that consumers are likely to regard as objective and that are capable of objective substantiation. The ASA may regard claims as misleading in the absence of adequate substantiation. (Substantiation).
The ad must not appear again in its current form. We told Merlin Entertainments Ltd to ensure that a significant proportion of short breaks were available in a relatively even spread across the travel period in their future marketing. We also told them not to claim or imply that a child’s stay was free if that was not the case.