Summary of Council decision:
Two issues were investigated, both of which were Upheld.
A website ad, a paid-for Facebook ad and a paid-for Google ad for Shaw Academy, seen in February 2021:
a. The website www.shawacademy.com, included a page titled “Human Nutrition Certification Course” alongside a video summarising the details of the course. Further text stated “Understand human nutrition from the inside out in this online course. Master the basics and move onto complex nutrition principles in just 16 weeks”. Text beneath stated “FREE for 4 weeks” and “£49.99/month” which was in faded grey and crossed out. A button to “Start your free course” was featured underneath, followed by further text below which stated “Globally Recognised” and “No Commitment”. A clickable button at the top of the page stated “Get 4 weeks free”.
b. The paid-for Facebook ad included the caption “Bored of binge watching? Why not learn a new skill? Get FREE access to our Online Course which gives you a thorough foundation in Floristry which you can use to advance your career or purely for personal reasons. An image of a pair of hands holding flowers appeared underneath, with superimposed text which stated “Floristry online course” and “£49.99” which was crossed out, followed by text beneath which stated “NOW FREE”. A clickable link to “Sign Up” was featured underneath alongside text which stated “UNLIMITED ACCESS to ALL our courses for 4 weeks”.
c. The paid-for Google ad featured the headline “Shaw Academy – Shaw Academy Online Learning”. Further text included “Learn from top educators and achieve a professional diploma in just 16 weeks! Accredited Diplomas. Interactive Lessons. QA Sessions. 100% Free Courses.”
The ASA received seven complaints:
1. Six complainants, three of whom said they were charged when they signed up for the free 4-week access, challenged whether ads (a) and (b) were misleading and the ASA challenged whether ad (c) was misleading, because they did not make clear that customers only got four weeks’ access for free and could not complete the course in that time.
2. Three complainants and the ASA challenged whether ads (a), (b), and (c) made clear the significant conditions of the free 4-week access to consumers, including that materials required to complete the courses were not included and that they would be entering into a subscription.
1. & 2. Shaw Academy Pvt Ltd said that they offered four weeks of free access to all customers who registered for any of their courses. They said that their business model was similar to many digital streaming services, ranging from audio books to video content and music, whereby customers were required to enter their payment details in order to gain access to the service. Free access to online subscription services for a defined period of time was a common practice and one that was readily understood by customers. Customers could cancel their Shaw Academy membership at any time, either during their four-week initial period or during their paid subscription period, and the cancellation process could be initiated online, by email or by phone. On the basis that customers could cancel their membership at any time and were not locked into a fixed term subscription, they believed that the use of the term “Cancel Anytime” in their marketing was justified.
They said that there was additional course material available, such as toolkits, which were learning aids that accompanied the course material and were a useful study aid, although they were not required to complete any of the modules throughout the course, nor were they a prerequisite to enter the four-week free access period. They did not reference toolkits or e-certificates in their advertising as they were not a condition of membership. The additional products were labelled with their price and a notice that there would be an immediate charge for the product.
Shaw Academy said that their marketing communications made clear the extent of the commitment the consumer needed to make in order to take advantage of the “free” offer. By selecting a course, registering their email address and entering payment details, customers could access over 100 Shaw Academy courses without any charge for a period of four weeks and attend as many different courses as they wanted to concurrently during their membership. The only instances of customers being charged within the four-week initial period was if they chose to purchase additional products. If a purchase was made in error, customers could request a refund through their customer care team. They said that at the point of insertion of payment details, customers were clearly informed of how long the free access would last, that they could cancel at any time, that they would be charged on a specified date 28 days in the future unless they unsubscribed during that period, how much the service would cost, and that it was a monthly recurring charge until they unsubscribed. Further, underneath the payment details section, the date that the free access ended and when customers would start to be charged was stated.
Shaw Academy provided screenshots of the customer journey, from the moment of signing up to the four-week free access to cancelling the subscription.
1. & 2. Upheld
The ASA considered that consumers were likely to understand the claims “FREE for 4 weeks”, “Start your free course” and “Get 4 weeks free” in ad (a), to mean that they could have free access to a course for four weeks. We considered that consumers would understand the claims “Get FREE access to our Online Course”, and “NOW FREE” and “UNLIMITED ACCESS to ALL our courses for 4 weeks” in ad (b) to mean that they could have full access to Shaw Academy’s online courses for free for four weeks. Ad (c) featured the claims “Shaw Academy – Shaw Academy Online Learning”, “Learn from top educators and achieve a professional diploma in just 16 weeks!” and “100% Free Courses” and we considered that consumers would understand from those claims that they could have full access to Shaw Academy’s online courses for free and would be able to complete a course for free in 16 weeks.
The screenshots of the customer journey provided by Shaw Academy indicated that customers were not charged immediately upon entering their card details when signing up to free access for four weeks. Further down the customer journey, information about add-on options were shown, along with their prices. We therefore understood that consumers were not charged when they signed up for the free four week access or during that period unless they chose to purchase additional products.
We looked at ad (a) and while we considered that it made clear that consumers would get only four weeks’ free, it did not make clear that they would not be able to complete a full course within that time. There was also no information which made clear whether consumers would be entered into a subscription once the free four week period ended, or any information detailing that they would need to pay for course materials.
We looked at ad (b) and we considered that while it made clear that consumers would get only four weeks’ free, the claim “UNLIMITED ACCESS to ALL our courses for 4 weeks” implied that consumers could have access to entire courses during that period. There was no information that made clear that consumers would not be able to complete a full course within that time or that they would be entered into a subscription once the free four-week period ended, or any information detailing that they would need to pay for course materials.
We looked at ad (c) which did not make clear that consumers would get only four weeks free access and that they would not be able to complete a full course in that time. There was also no information to explain that they would be entered into a subscription once the free four-week period ended, or any information detailing that they would need to pay for course materials.While we noted that the four-week free access period enabled customers to access all of Shaw Academy’s online courses which could be taken concurrently, and that a certificate of completion was available to customers who completed module one, we understood that a monthly subscription fee applied if customers wanted to complete modules two to four and that each module took approximately four weeks to complete. We also understood that a Diploma certificate was only available on completion of all modules and after the final exam had successfully been completed.
There was no information in the ads which made clear that the free four-week access was a limited trial period, and that by signing up to the four-week free access period, customers were entering into a subscription. We concluded that ads (a), (b) and (c) were misleading because they implied that consumers could have full access to courses during the four week free access period when that was not the case.
The ad breached CAP Code (Edition 12) rules
Marketing communications must not materially mislead or be likely to do so.
Marketing communications must not mislead the consumer by omitting material information. They must not mislead by hiding material information or presenting it in an unclear, unintelligible, ambiguous or untimely manner.
Material information is information that the consumer needs to make informed decisions in relation to a product. Whether the omission or presentation of material information is likely to mislead the consumer depends on the context, the medium and, if the medium of the marketing communication is constrained by time or space, the measures that the marketer takes to make that information available to the consumer by other means. (Misleading Advertising), 3.9 3.9 Marketing communications must state significant limitations and qualifications. Qualifications may clarify but must not contradict the claims that they qualify. 3.10 3.10 Qualifications must be presented clearly.
CAP has published Advertising Guidance on Misleading advertising: use of qualifications. (Qualification), 3.23 3.23 Marketing communications must make clear the extent of the commitment the consumer must make to take advantage of a "free" offer. (Free), 8.1 8.1 Promoters are responsible for all aspects and all stages of their promotions. 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) 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. and 8.17 8.17 All marketing communications or other material referring to promotions must communicate all applicable significant conditions or information where the omission of such conditions or information is likely to mislead. Significant conditions or information may, depending on the circumstances, include: (Administration).
The ad must not appear again in its current form. We told Shaw Academy Pvt Ltd to ensure that they made clear significant qualifications and limitations of their offers, for example, that they were free trials and that consumers were entering into a subscription by signing up to them, if that was the case. We also told them to ensure that they did not imply that customers had full access to courses during the four-week free access period if that was not the case and to make clear that customers would only get access to one module and would need to pay for additional modules during the free four-week access period.