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
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
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
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
'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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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.