Bosses at the Mail on Sunday – the title which once ran under the strapline “A newspaper, not a snooze paper” – might be wishing they had been a little more alert to the rules of promotional marketing after being hauled up over a “free offer”.
The issue was sparked by a front page ad and website listing which read: “Free* Smart Plug”, with smaller text stating “Turn your lights on and off by remote control followed by an image of the product and a roundel that stated “worth £19.99”.
Even smaller text, linked to the asterisk in the main claim, appeared underneath the product image and included the conditions “Online access, MyMail membership and 2,000 Nectar points required”.
Mail on Sunday readers – a truculent bunch at best – were not impressed and complained to the Advertising Standards Authority that the smart plug was not free as it required the expenditure of 2,000 Nectar points. They challenged whether the ads were misleading.
In response, Mail on Sunday owner DMG Media insisted that as Mail readers could collect Nectar points simply by buying the paper that it should not be considered as a “payment”. It also said that the terms of the offer had been “sufficiently clear”. The Mail titles joined the Nectar scheme in 2017.
The ASA, however, was having none of it. The regulator said that by using the term “free”, readers would understand that they could get the smart plug without incurring costs beyond the unavoidable cost of responding to the offer and collecting or paying for delivery of the plug.
It added: “Because the offer required a commitment that went beyond this, the ads were likely to mislead.”
Ruling that the offer must not appear again in that form, the ASA warned DMG Media to ensure that future marketing communications did not use the term “free” to describe items that could not be purchased with the number of Nectar points obtainable by responding to the offer.
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