The website www.moremags.com, a craft magazine online subscription store, seen on 25 October 2018, featured a page for the magazine, “Simply Cards & Papercraft”.
Text towards the top of the page stated “Simply Cards & Papercraft is the must have magazine with the latest papercrafting trends, EXCLUSIVE gifts, easy to follow guides and all year round inspiration. Every single issue is packed with the best tip, techniques and helpful insider knowledge to allow you to creating beautiful projects [sic]!”. Below this was a list of features of the magazine, including text which stated “A fabulous EXCLUSIVE gift worth up to £10 - boost your stash!”.Following on underneath, a number of magazine issues were listed, including issue 182, the description of which stated “Winter Wonderland dies, stamps & stencil. £6.99”, and issue 178, the description of which stated “Our BIGGEST gift yet! The Best of Card Making Magic A4 stamp set and 4-piece die set! £7.99”.On a different page, for the magazine “papercraft essentials”, text towards the top stated “Every single issue of Papercraft Essentials is packed with inspiration and includes an Exclusive gift worth up to £10”. Below, a number of magazine issues were listed, including issue 165, the description of which stated “Festive Friend dies & 22-piece stamp set plus 64-page paper pack, worth £30. £6.99”, and issue 161, the description of which stated “EXCLUSIVE Apple Blossom Bubbles & Fizz embossing folder, die & stamp set! Regular Price: £7.99, Special Price £3.99”.
IssueThe complainant, who believed that the “gift” did not represent a genuine additional benefit, challenged whether the claim “gift” was misleading.
Practical Publishing International Ltd t/a moremags.com said that in the magazine world, the terms “free” and “gift” had very different meanings and were used in different ways. The term “gift” was the magazine industry’s preferred shorthand for “something desirable that comes with the magazine” and there were not any suitable alternatives. The term “gift” had a specific and commonly understood meaning within that market and it had long been ubiquitous amongst publishers which provided additional products along with their titles. They provided a number of examples of other publications which featured a gift.
Moremags.com said the term “gift” was used consistently by them and their competitors, regardless of the price of any given issue and its usage had nothing to do with whether or not the price of a given issue changed. The term was simply used as a generic description of attractive value-adds. They said that the common language of the magazine industry and its audience needed to be taken into account, and it would not serve any public interest to prohibit the claim. They said that customers fully understood the use of the word “gift” and used the term themselves in focus groups, reader surveys and on forums and chat boards. Moremags.com said the price of the magazine did not vary from issue to issue; the regular price of both magazines was £5.99 at present. There were, however, a handful of bumper issues of each within a year, around three or four out of fourteen issues, which had a higher price in all outlets. Bumper issues were something that many publishers produced and were part of their commercial strategy.
Moremags.com said it was obvious that there was some relationship between the price of the package and the value of the package (perceived or actual), and the gift was clearly an important component of that. They would not expect customers to pay a bumper price for a package that was no different to an ordinary issue, but they were not representing that any of the gifts were free. They did not buy their gifts “off the shelf”, they designed and manufactured them themselves and tasked their team to come up with the most innovative, high quality packages available. The gift was an integral part of the overall magazine package and all their products were designed to offer clear value for crafters, that value being objectively greater on issues sold at a higher price.Moremags.com said that where gifts were described as worth a certain amount, those claims could be substantiated with reference to comparable products in any craft store, online or offline. They provided several examples of similar gift packs available at higher prices on a different website. They aimed to capture the customers’ attention with strong messaging at point of sale and websites. Their pricing and value proposition was always clear, both in-store and online.
The ASA considered that consumers would understand from the claims “exclusive gift”, “our biggest gift yet” and “fabulous exclusive gift”, which were used to describe the promotional items that came with the magazines, that those items were a genuine additional benefit they received as a result of purchasing the magazines. We considered that consumers would understand the claim “gift” to be synonymous with the claim “free”. We noted that the stated ‘regular price’ of both magazines varied between £5.99 and £7.99, with several showing a reduced ‘special price’ of £2.99 or £3.99. We considered that although moremags.com stated that £5.99 was the usual selling price of the magazines, the magazine was priced at £5.99 no more frequently than any other price, and therefore £5.99 was not the usual selling price. We understood that every issue of the magazine came with an “Exclusive gift”.
We considered that because the magazines were not available to purchase without a gift, nor were the gifts available to purchase independently of the magazine, the promotional items were not genuinely separable from the magazines and consumers would be unlikely to be aware of the stand-alone price of the magazines. We also noted that moremags.com acknowledged that there was a relationship between the total price of the magazine and the value of the gift which came with that issue, and that issues sold at a higher price had gifts of an objectively greater value. For example, an issue with a ‘gift’ described as being worth £17.99 was priced at £2.99, and the following issue, with a gift described as being worth £22.99 was priced at £3.99. We therefore considered the promotional item did not offer a genuine additional benefit received as a result of purchasing the magazines and concluded that the claim “gift” was misleading.The ad breached CAP Code (Edition 12) rules 3.1 (Misleading advertising), 3.17 (Prices) and 3.24.2 (Free).
The claim must not appear again in its current form. We told Practical Publishing International Ltd t/a moremags.com not to claim or imply that promotional items that came with their magazines were “gifts”, if that element was included in the package price.