Use of the word “FREE” in marketing promotions

Use of the word “FREE” in marketing promotions

The Advertising Standards Authority is the UK’s independent regulator of advertising across all media, whose work includes acting on complaints and proactively checking TV, Radio, print and online media to take action against misleading, harmful or offensive advertisements, sales promotions and direct marketing.

If they judge an ad to be in breach of the UK Advertising Codes, it must be withdrawn or amended and the advertiser must not use the approach again.
Today we shed some light on the CAP rules it follows for Sales Promotions:
In recent years, the ASA has published several adjudications on the use of “free” in marketing communications, a claim that marketers and consumers have often found confusing.
Some consumers expect “free” promotional goods to be entirely without cost and in some promotions consumers receive something for absolutely nothing, for example, a free product sample handed out to passers-by. But the Code allows a free item to be conditional on the purchase of other items (see below) and promoters may make a minimal charge for obtaining a so-called “free” item.
For example, promoters may charge the uninflated cost of postage (though front-page flashes offering “free” goods should indicate that it is extra, for example “plus postage”). Promoters wishing to offer ‘free’ goods cannot legitimately charge for anything other than postage, such as packaging, packing, administration, handling, insurance etc.
The question of whether a product or service should be referred to as “free” or “inclusive” has proved most troublesome in recent years. Broadly, if a product is offered “free” as part of a conditional-purchase promotion that is unlikely to breach the Code but marketers may not describe an individual element of a package offer as “free”: the proper term is “inclusive”.
The Code allows “free” to be used if customers are required to buy other items – a conditional-purchase promotion – provided their liability for all costs is made clear, the quality or composition of the paid-for items has not been reduced and the price of the paid-for items has not been inflated to recover the cost of supplying the free item. If the item that is being described as “free” is genuinely separate from and additional to the item that the customer is required to pay for, the offer qualifies as a conditional-purchase promotion and the item may legitimately be described as “free”. An offer can satisfy the criteria for being a conditional-purchase promotion in one of two ways: (i) the paid-for item is separable from the free item for example, a free lipstick with the purchase of a women’s magazine or (ii) the paid-for item has an established price and is usually sold alone without the free item, for example a chocolate bar with 50% extra free.

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