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ASA issues guidance on how to deliver a compliant marketing subscription box

Published on 21 January 2020

How careful do you need to be when offering a free trial? What does a free trial “subscription trap” look like? And how do you avoid setting one?

The key takeaway

A free trial for a subscription package needs to include all the material information a consumer needs to make an informed decision on whether or not to enter into the subscription commitment. 

The background

The ASA has recently published advice on providing compliant “free-style” trial subscription box offers. 

The ASA’s advice is to include all significant conditions, which will be any information likely to affect a consumer’s understanding of the subscription box with respect to their decision on whether or not to buy it. Rule 8.17 of the CAP Code provides details which need to be included:

  • how to participate, including costs or other factors likely to influence a consumer’s decision;
  • any free-entry route explained clearly and prominently;
  • the start date, if applicable;
  • the closing date;
  • any proof of purchase requirements;
  • if applicable, the number and nature of any prizes or gifts and, if the numbers are not predetermined then, a reasonable estimate should be provided;
  • any restrictions that may apply, such as age or location; 
  • any limitations on the availability of the promotion;
  • the promoter’s name and address, if it is not obvious from the context.

Further to Rule 8.17, the following are examples specific to subscription boxes that are likely to affect a consumer’s understanding:

  • whether a paid subscription starts automatically after the trial unless it is cancelled;
  • how to cancel if the method of doing so is not what a consumer may reasonably expect;
  • the extent of the financial commitment in the case the subscription is not cancelled during the trial period.

The placement and prominence within the ad of any material information and significant conditions is also key. Essentially, the consumer should see any material information and significant conditions before choosing whether or not to buy a free trial subscription offer. Significant conditions should always be included and any other terms and conditions can be signposted for the consumer if they are easily accessible. As examples:

  • stating “T&Cs apply” is unlikely to be sufficient;
  • information should not be hidden at the bottom of the page;
  • information should be immediately visible, pop-ups are not sufficient.

Consider also the CAP Code for all aspects of the ad and refer to the specific rules that may apply to the products or services included in the subscription box.

Why is this important?

The advice demonstrates the ASA’s expectations on ensuring consumers are fully informed about subscription boxes and its desire to ensure that they will be satisfied with the product or service and wish to continue with it. 

Any practical tips?

Ensure commitments for a subscription box are explicitly clear for consumers and that any significant conditions are included in the ad as prominent and distinct from other information.