ROUND TABLE - PRIZE PROMOTIONS: Eyes on the prize - Competitions and prize draws elicit more complaints to the ASA than any other form of promotion. The round table convenes to find out why this is and what can be done to address it

We are all familiar with the letter that thuds through the letter

box with messages such as: 'Congratulations - you could already be the

winner of our huge prize jackpot!' The fact that your unmissable prize

turns out to be neither the Rolex nor the pounds 100,000 cash, but a

binnable plastic keyring, is just a typical example of the kind of dodgy

marketing practice which continues to give reputable promoters a bad

name.



Time for a refresher course? The ISP certainly thinks so and last month

decided to publish its Guidelines on Prize Promotions, a clarification

of the legislation and codes of practice which sets out the numerous

types of promotion alongside appropriate considerations for each.



But with prize draws and competitions continuing to prompt more

complaints to the ASA than any other form of promotion, the question

arises whether this will be enough to rein in the recalcitrant

operators. Precisely who are they anyway? And is their flouting of the

rules a result of an understandable oversight or a more cynical

disregard of them?



P&I gathered leading industry experts to debate these issues and to

attempt to find solutions to the difficulties that prize promotions

throw up to both clients and consumers.



'If you analyse the ASA 'complaints upheld' on their website, they fall

into more or less three groups,' notes Perspectives' deputy chairman

Mark Beasley. 'Direct marketers of the 'you've-probably-won-a-prize'

type are massive offenders, as are the newspapers, which are run by

hard-nosed businessmen who are there to sell newspapers and will do

whatever it takes. Then there's a third group of various sorts of

promoter who occasionally fall foul of a technicality, usually

unintentionally.'



It seems to be a very rare event for a mainstream company using a

reputable agency or legal advisers to fall foul of the laws. But this

professionalism stands in stark contrast to the arrogance of what ISP

legal adviser Philip Circus terms the 'barrack room' sales promotion

experts. 'You have client companies which think that they don't require

the services of a professional SP agency, and you have ad agencies which

think that SP is something anyone can do.'



It's exactly this attitude which gives rise to the kind of shoddily-run

promotion which Kevin Francis, a keen competition entrant and chairman

of the London Competitors Club, comes across all too frequently. He

cites the example of a recent in-store Selfridges campaign which offered

a top prize of a trip to France to view the Tattinger Champagne house.

'There were no entry forms to be seen, and I was told I had to buy the

champagne to enter - even though it was a straightforward draw without a

tie-breaker. When I brought the isssue up with Selfridges' promotions

department, I was told that this particular campaign was exclusive to

the wines and spirits department and that they had no jurisdiction over

it.'



People failing to understand the true nature of a free-prize draw and

when it is appropriate or not to request purchase is, says Francis, one

of his principal gripes over prize promotions.



Low-level and inadequately briefed employees taking charge of promotions

is a common criticism voiced by our panel. Circus, for example, came

across an unlawful campaign in his local branch of Tesco and ended up

writing a letter to the top marketing guru at the retailer's

headquarters.



'He replied 'yes, you're quite right, it is an illegal lottery.

Normally, we would clear these things but this was a promotion initiated

by the branch's manager'. So sometimes you find even within one firm

there are people doing things off their own bat, thinking 'I don't need

to clear this', and this is the result.'



A further complication is the continued growth of internet marketing,

which Omaid Hiwaizi, creative director of Hubbard Hiwaizi McCann,

believes will result in an inevitable increase in the number of illegal

sales promotions: 'SP is one of the key mechanisms for driving traffic

online. But if you just surf around, you see promotions that have been

created by the webshop that put the site together. You also have

dot-coms using their in-house marketing departments which are of very

variable quality; they think they can cobble it together themselves, but

end up making a dog's dinner of it. And I think it's going to get worse,

specifically from the point of view of prize draws. I actually wonder if

sales promotion is going to have a second coming because it is said to

be so important to the medium.'



The most frequent complaints which arise - both from the on- and

off-line world - stem from the all-too-frequent sloppiness of wording of

competition rules.



William Freitag, a particularly astute consumer who has successfully

contested the irregularities in a number of promotions, famously won a

case against Douwe Egberts for claiming they had an 'independent panel

of judges', when, in fact, only one member of the panel was actually

independent.



Circus believes Freitag has actually done a great service to the

industry by homing in on the importance of precision in the drafting of

rules for prize promotions. Typical examples of 'woolly' inconsistencies

in the rules include the confusion over regional designations. 'I'm

always saying to people, 'do you realise that the UK does not include

the Isle of Man and the Channel Islands?'' notes Circus.



'Another popular one is the oft-used phrase 'proof of postage is not

proof of delivery',' Circus adds. 'Postage in fact refers to the stamps

- very few promoters know why they put that clause in at all. This an

area where you cannot afford to be vague - the rules are a contract

between the promoter and the consumer and you can be held liable for

them in court.' Perspectives' Beasley is also fully conversant with the

importance of taking seriously the link with the consumer. 'Client

companies need to show respect to the people that are participating in

their promotions.



Inviting consumers to take part is a great opportunity to build up a

relationship with customers, and how you handle the promotion, can have

a huge impact on that.'



If a consumer is paying money to enter competitions, then they expect it

to be done properly. What they don't expect is the kind of behaviour

which competitor Francis witnessed in a recent Boots/Candarel

tie-breaker campaign to win 100 mountain bikes. 'The closing date was

Friday 30 August, yet all winners were notified by the following Monday.

I wrote to them asking how they could possibly have judged all the

entries and sent letters of notification within 24 hours,' he recalls.

His letter was passed on to the handling house which explained that they

had judged all the entries as they came in - though, as Francis points

out, this was clearly unfair as the best tie-breakers could quite

feasibly have arrived in the closing days of the promotion.



According to Philip Circus, there has been an attitude over the years of

'what the eye doesn't see, the heart doesn't bleed over', facilitated by

the fact that certain aspects of prize promotion administration is

actually carried out behind closed doors. 'I remember one massive

promotion where there was a considerable PR advantage to having a winner

in every region - and lo and behold, that's what they ended up

with.'



However the illegalities arise, whether through wilful ignorance of the

rules or by bona fide companies slipping up in one of the notoriously

'grey areas', the consensus among the panel was that it is the duty of

well-informed promoters to continue to lead by example and to

marginalise the less scrupulous kind of behaviour as best they can.



According to the BPMA's development consultant Brenda Simonetti,

encouraging greater clarity is one of the best ways to do this. 'We get

used to all our phrases like 'no purchase necessary', but the consumer

out there might not know what the hell we're talking about. When I was

at Quaker, the one thing we always used to do with on-pack copy was to

take it out of the marketing department and talk to some of the girls in

sales or IT and say 'read it for me and tell me what you think you're

expected to do'. It's amazing how often they would come back and say

they didn't understand,' she says.



The bombardment of consumers with legal-speak such as 'we will accept no

liability whatsoever' is an obvious turn-off, but there are sensible

ways of truncating the terms and conditions. 'I get an awful lot of

people telling me that there just isn't room to do this on-pack and get

the message across. I tell them to imagine that it's an old-fashioned

telegram and they are being charged pounds 20 a word. What you end up

with is something with far fewer words but which communicates much

more,' argues Circus.



Not devoting the sufficient time and attention that prize promotions

deserve is a shortcoming which Simonetti singles out as hugely

important.



She stresses that it is vital not to cut corners just to meet a deadline

and that it is far more important to get things right. The cost to

clients of finding themselves in a potential Hoover-like debacle will be

far more damaging than any missed deadline. 'Promotions are put in

danger by people trying to rush things - nobody has time to go through

anything properly,' she continues.



It is hoped that this recommended good business practice and precision

among regular industry operators will eventually trickle down and

improve behaviour on the fringes, something that will prove to be

invaluable when the industry finally makes the big move into Europe.



While acknowledging this, our panel was on the whole dismissive of

worries about impending European legislation, preferring to concentrate

on the immediate issue of improving standards at home.



'The biggest reason for taking heed of the new ISP booklet is not

because you're concerned about the implications of a move into Europe',

says Circus. 'It's because you want to produce a better and more

effective promotion - one that won't land you in court with Mr

Freitag.'



Hiwaizi, who believes the increase in digital media will soon force a

review of the legislation, says he thinks something stronger is called

for. 'Perhaps a system of fines is the answer. While experts in our

industry will toe the line because of their professionalism, I don't

think any voluntary code will force the law-breakers to change their

behaviour - because it doesn't suit them.'



But whichever line of thinking you side with - the learn-by-example

approach or the kind of punitive system suggested by Hiwaizi - the

message from our panel of experts is loud and clear: if the sales

promotion industry is to retain the respect of consumers, then the quest

for greater clarity and fair treatment in prize promotions must

continue.



THE PANEL



Mark Beasley, deputy chairman, Perspectives



Philip Circus, legal adviser, ISP



Kevin Francis, chairman, London Competitors Club



Omaid Hiwaizi, creative director, Hubbard Hiwaizi McCann



Brenda Simonetti, development consultant, BPMA.



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