Freedom is not free - neither are free gifts from Mail on Sunday

We've seen a few rulings recently by the Advertising Standards Agency (ASA) that concern free promotional items incurring a cost to the consumer. Stuff worth bearing in mind before you send off for your Jigglemeister 3000 with five tokens from The Daily Sluts. Although personally speaking, no amount of money would be too much for the new 3000; it's like the Jigglemeister 2000, but with added lube canals.

Anyway. The Mail on Sunday was offering an altogether more mundane item to its readers - a free home energy monitor. Three tokens from the paper would take care of all your home energy monitor requirements. And a call to a premium rate number for a special promotional code required to apply. Oh. That wouldn't be in the spirit of the word free, now would it?

The Mail on Sunday were obviously right in what they were doing, at least according to The Mail on Sunday:

Associated Newspapers said, although they suggested that readers called the premium rate number, they did not state that the reader "must" call it.  They believed readers would understand that the premium rate number was optional and pointed to the free phone number on page two of the newspaper.

The fact that the paper hadn't used the word "must" didn't wash with the ASA, who couldn't find any other method to apply for the free item, other than the one that cost money:

We noted the ad did not refer to another entry route for the promotion. We therefore considered that readers were likely to understand that the premium rate telephone entry route was the only route to participate in the promotion.  Because the premium rate telephone charge went beyond the minimum, unavoidable cost of responding to the promotion, we concluded that the use of the term 'free' was likely to mislead.

Past rulings suggest that any offer incurring unreasonable cost to the consumer beyond that stated by the promotion - in this case, none at all - is unacceptable. For example, there's no reason why the paper couldn't have offered a free application route online; it probably would have been enough to satisfy the ASA.

While the pennies are tight, offers like this will doubt become more appealing, to both the consumer who wants to save money, and the companies that want to keep their sales and profile buoyant. Keep an eye out to make sure that free doesn't cost you cash.


  • Cam12
    Do you the the rights to show this image taken from flickr?
  • Paul S.
    Yes Cam/Dave/John/Anon/Norm. It's published with some rights reserved under the appropriate Creative Commons Licence. We've acknowledged this, and linked to the source where the licence can be accessed.
  • pip
    The way they catch people is that, they are so quick to jump at the word free, they don't check the fine print. That, however, does not give these big companies the right to exploit people. We all need to be more careful at checking things before we respond, that way we'll hit them where it hurts- in the pocket and maybe (being very optimistic), they will start to advertise fairer deals or be upfront with hidden costs. Who knows we can dream.
  • GO
    Thanks for the tip. I'll check it out, keep the great work up.
  • Allyson J.
    Hey, thanks for that link to get the free gift card for toys from Kmart, I tried to use it but its only open to those in U.S.A. which sucks because my mom got hers in 3 days in the mail, but she lives in Denver.

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