ASA Ruling on News UK & Ireland Ltd t/a News UK
The Times ran a promotion offering “two Legoland tickets for £10” upon the collection and redemption of four unique codes. The small print at the bottom of the promotion included “subject to availability” but did not include a closing date.
Two complainants challenged the promotion on the grounds that it was misleading and did not comply with the Code because it was their belief that the advertiser had not made a reasonable estimate of demand. Another challenged the promotion on the grounds it was misleading because the promotion did not display a closing date.
- Despite the fact that it was the first time that the Times had offered tickets to be acquired by token collection with a payment element, News UK believed that it had made a reasonable estimate of demand based on previous promotions which included free or discounted experience offers. The examples it gave were promotions for free Legoland tickets run by Times+ that had 10,000 redemptions and Alton Tower tickets by the Times which had 15,000 redemptions. These two promotions (which involved the collection of four tokens) were for the redemption of free tickets and the dates that the tickets were available fell on the school holidays. The promotion in contention however had availability from 10 March to 15 May 2017 and the redeemer had to pay £10 for two tickets. Taking these factors into account, News UK believed that the Legoland promotion would be less attractive than the Times+ or Alton Towers promotions. Notwithstanding this, News UK purchased 35,000 pairs of tickets for the promotion. News UK received 500 direct requests for tickets after the tickets were exhausted which it believed was partly due to the fact that a prominent journalist had mentioned their promotion on breakfast TV and on a popular finance website. This led to the promotion being featured on multiple discount channels without their direct involvement, which they had not anticipated at the time.
News UK explained that as the sudden spike in demand occurred after the final day of in-paper advertising, it was unable to remove or alter the ads in the newspapers. Customers would however be aware that the tickets had run out because they would receive an error message when they tried to book an available date to attend Legoland. To avoid disappointment, News UK released an additional 500 pairs to the entrants who had contacted them.
- The closing date was included in the full terms and conditions, but News UK stated that in future promotions it would ensure that it would include a closing date in a more prominent place. News UK also stated that it had believed that the tickets allocated for the promotion would not be exhausted by the end of the promotion and therefore the closing date had not been extended. Furthermore, News UK believed that customers would know that they needed to book quickly to secure their preferred date and therefore News UK did not believe that the non-inclusion of the closing date would materially disadvantage any customers.
- The ASA found that News UK had been reasonable in basing the estimate for this promotion on promotions conducted in the past, notwithstanding the fact that these previous promotions were not strictly identical to the Legoland promotion. Furthermore, the ASA acknowledged that the spike in demand was due to the promotion’s unexpected feature on breakfast TV which News UK could not have predicted although it was common for discount websites to share information about promotions.
The ASA did however note that the inclusion of “subject to availability” did not relieve promotors of their obligation to do everything reasonable to avoid disappointing customers. The CAP code requires promotors to communicate with consumers in a timely manner and, if appropriate, offer a refund or a reasonable substitute product if they cannot meet estimated demand. Other than release an additional 500 pairs of tickets to customers who had contacted them directly, News UK did not further communicate with and either refund or offer a reasonable substitute to customers more widely. This was deemed likely to have caused disappointment and detriment to consumers who purchased the newspapers to obtain the codes and as such the promotion was found to be misleading and had not complied with the CAP Code.
- The ASA acknowledged that the closing date was in the full terms and conditions but as a significant condition, it should have been more prominently displayed. Furthermore the dates that were displayed differed from the actual closing date and that, coupled with the fact that the promotion was subject to availability, meant that it was imperative that the consumers understood how long they had to redeem the codes in order to receive the tickets.
The ASA ruled that the ads for future promotions must include the closing date and that if they were unable to supply demand because of some unanticipated factor outside their control, then they must ensure relevant timely communication with applicants and consumers and, in cases of any likely detriment, offer a refund or a reasonable substitute product.
Why is this important?
News UK had gone through the hoops and proved that it had made a reasonable estimate of the demand for tickets. But the ASA put significant weight on the fact that they had not communicated properly to consumers once the tickets had run out. It’s hard to see quite what else News UK could have done here, especially in terms of providing a reasonable substitute when the tickets ran out, albeit it’s likely that extra communication would have helped. So what the case seems to be really saying is plan ahead – ie think about the communications you will post if demand exceeds supplies, and consider what you will offer in advance as a reasonable substitute.
Any practical tips?
When preparing a redemption promotion, think through the practical steps you will take should you run out of stock. Work out the messaging for this eventuality ahead of the start of the promotion, so that you can deploy this immediately should your promotion prove too popular. Think also on a substitute product you can offer participants. And, if there is a closing date, always flag this prominently.