A press ad for The Herald newspaper, seen on 16 January 2018, promoted their subscription offer. The ad, which was headed “NEW YEAR SPECIAL OFFER”, contained text that stated “FREE THE NEW KINDLE E-READER WORTH £110 We’re giving our loyal readers the chance to enjoy a truly fantastic offer. Subscribe to The Herald newspaper (printed version) for a year and as a thank you … you can choose a £75 John Lewis gift card or the all-new Amazon Kindle Paperwhite e-reader worth £110”. Text in the section “Your subscriptions includes” listed the following bullet points: “The Herald newspaper print edition, Monday to Saturday”; “FREE £75 gift card for you to spend at John Lewis or Waitrose or an Amazon Kindle Paperwhite e-reader worth £110”; and “Minimum 12-month term”. Text in smaller font below the ad stated “Terms and conditions: Minimum 12-month term. Your first payment of £118.30 will be taken by direct debit to cover your first quarter, then your payment will revert to a monthly direct debit £39.43 … New subscribers only …”.
The complainant, who understood that the total cost of the subscription under the “NEW YEAR SPECIAL OFFER” would be greater than the total cost of subscription for the same number of days outside the offer, challenged whether the “free” claims were misleading.
Newsquest Media Group Ltd t/a The Herald, stated that their print subscription offers were straightforward. They offered two types of subscriptions: the first was a gift subscription offer in which consumers would pay the normal cover price of the newspaper under that offer and would receive a “free” gift; the second was a discounted subscription offer in which consumers would receive a 20% discount on the cover price of the newspaper for a six-day order (Monday to Saturday) and 25% discount for a seven-day order (Monday to Sunday). They stated that the subscription offer promoted in the ad was a gift subscription offer. They also said that in general, when customers contacted them regarding the gift subscription offer, they would be verbally offered the options of the “free” gift or the discount, both of which were popular with their readers.
The Herald also provided further pricing information for their newspaper. They stated that the normal print edition cover price at the time the ad was seen was £1.45 on Monday to Friday, and £1.85 on Saturday. They said that their pricing information was clearly stated next to the masthead on the front cover of each print edition. The Herald said that the editions from Monday to Friday would state “PRICE £1.45, DISCOUNTED SUBSCRIPTION PRICE £1.09”, and the Saturday edition would state “PRICE £1.85, DISCOUNTED SUBSCRIPTION PRICE £1.39”. The Herald also provided a copy of their subscription ratecard, which indicated that a six-day (Monday to Saturday) subscription would cost £31.55 per month, and £378.56 per year, under the discount subscription offer.
The ASA considered that consumers were likely to interpret the “free” claims, used to describe the Kindle e-reader or the John Lewis gift card in the ad, to mean that either of those promotional items were genuinely additional benefits to the “New Year Special Offer” subscription offer. We also considered consumers would understand from the claims that the price of a subscription for the same number days per week and same contract term as the New Year offer would ordinarily be sold for the same price without the promotional items described as “free” in the ad.
We understood that the “New Year Special Offer” was for a six-day (Monday to Saturday) subscription of the print edition of the paper with a contract term of 12 months. We noted that the cost of a six-day subscription for 12 months under the “New Year Special Offer” was £433.74, whereas the cost of a subscription under the other discount subscription offer was £378.56 for the same number of days per week and same contract terms, but without the promotional items described as “free”. We noted from The Herald’s comments that consumers would be able to purchase a subscription for the same number of days and contract term without the promotional items described as “free”. Because they would be able to obtain the same subscription at a lower price than if they had taken advantage of the “New Year Special Offer”, we considered that the additional promotional items – the Kindle e-reader of the gift card – that were included as part of the promotion were not genuinely free.
For those reasons, we considered that the “free” claims in the ad were misleading and were therefore in breach of the Code.
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), 3.17 3.17 Price statements must not mislead by omission, undue emphasis or distortion. They must relate to the product featured in the marketing communication. (Prices), 3.24 3.24 Marketing communications must not describe items as "free" if: and 3.24.2 3.24.2 the cost of response, including the price of a product that the consumer must buy to take advantage of the offer, has been increased, except where the increase results from factors that are unrelated to the cost of the promotion, or (Free), and 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. (Promotional marketing).
The ad must not appear again in its current form. We told The Herald to ensure that future ads for similar subscription offers that included additional promotional items did not misleadingly claim that those items were free, if consumers were able to obtain an equivalent subscription without those promotional items at a lower price.