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How not to run an influencer prize promotion

Published on 02 August 2021

If you’re an influencer with a substantial following, and you plan on running a free prize draw, how careful do you need to be in selecting the winner from the (likely) huge number of responses?

The key takeaway

Influencers have to follow the rules like everyone else. Just because you’re an individual doesn’t mean you don’t need to think very carefully about how you administer a prize promotion in a way which meets the requirements of the CAP Code. There is a lesson for brands in here too. If you engage influencers to run promotions for/with you, you need to ensure they know exactly what they need to do to – not only from an advertising disclosure perspective, but also from an administrative perspective.

The ad

In September 2020, Love Island alumni Molly-May Hague offered one of her five million Instagram followers the opportunity to win almost £8,000 of designer goods. To be in with a chance to win, Instagram users had to subscribe to Ms Hague’s Instagram and YouTube accounts, “like” the Instagram post in question, tag a friend, and follow her tanning brand “Filter By Molly-Mae” on Instagram. The competition post attracted around 1.2 million likes and almost three million comments. The CAP Code provides that “promoters of prize draws must ensure that prizes are awarded in accordance with the laws of chance and, unless winners are selected by a computer process that produces verifiably random results, by an independent person, or under the supervision of an independent person” (rule 8.24).

The complaint

Following the close of the competition, the ASA received over ten complaints from individuals who questioned whether all the entrants were included in the final prize draw. They challenged (i) whether the promotion was administered fairly, and (ii) whether the prize was awarded in accordance with the laws of chance.

The response

Ms Hague responded to the allegations stating that the post didn’t incentivise any engagement with a brand of product and therefore didn’t come under the CAP Code’s rules on promotions. Despite this, Ms Hague qualified that during the process of selecting a winner, she had instructed a member of her team to pick a group of participants at random, and under the supervision of an independent person. Due to the high number of entrants prohibiting the use of computer software, the profiles were manually selected from a hat and verified as meeting the entry requirements. From the pool of 100 randomly selected entrants, Google’s number picker was used to select a final winner. Ms Hague claimed that she had no part in the selection process and that the independent person who oversaw the process had no affiliation with either her management team, the brand or the promotion. She was also candid in admitting that the response to the promotion had been “overwhelming and unexpected”, and that she had endeavored to deal with it in the best way possible.

The development

Despite her explanation, the ASA noted that, following the close of the competition, Ms Hague had uploaded an Instagram story which clarified that the winner had been selected from a smaller shortlist of 25 profiles – the ASA was understandably “concerned by the inconsistencies in the information provided”. Ms Hague had failed to provide evidence that this smaller group had been chosen randomly using computer software or that the prize was awarded in accordance with the laws of chance and by an independent person or under the supervision of an independent person. The ASA considered that the characteristics of the post – namely its time limited nature, and the liking, tagging and subscribing – were indicative of a prize draw promotion and consequently brought under the scope of the CAP Code. Irrespective of Ms Hague’s expectations of how many would respond to the post, the ASA considered that she should have anticipated the high response relative to her overall following. Consequently, the ASA upheld both complaints and found that the promotion has not been administered fairly.

Why is this important?

The ASA warned Ms Hague that she must ensure that any future promotions were administered fairly, and prizes awarded only in accordance with the laws of chance, under the supervision of an independent person. The results of this ruling have been widely publicised in the national press and some entrants were vocal in their criticism of the promotion, calling it “unfair” and a “scam”. The case therefore serves as a timely reminder of the importance of adherence to the advertising rules, particularly to influencers and/or content creators but also the brands who may work with them on these types of promotions.

Any practical tips?

All promotions run via social media channels should be conducted very carefully and in compliance with the CAP Code. And always remember to watch your influencers, both from an advertising disclosure perspective and, as highlighted by the Molly-Mae case, the proper administration of those promotions.