ASA rules that "free" offers must be free as in beer
An important adjudication came through the Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) site today regarding advertised "free" offers. The disputed advertisement was published in the Mirror and offered a "Free USB memory stick". The main text stated "TO get your FREE USB stick, enter your details online ... and pay £1.99 for postage and packing. Or send [sic] self-addressed envelope with a cheque for £1.99 ... ". Small print stated "Applications without an SAE will not be processed".
The complaint rightly disputed this ad, arguing that the offer was not free as it was necessary to pay £1.99 postage and packaging.
The ASA ruling is interesting as they upheld the complaint argument, stating: "The ad should have included a free route, by which readers could opt to send an appropriate self-addressed envelope with stamps to the value of the cost of postage only." However, they also noted in the Action that Expansive Media and the Mirror could not run the ad again unless there was an available method to pay no more than the genuine minimum unavoidable cost of delivery. Presumably this means the consumer could be charged genuine P&P instead of sending a prepaid SAE.
For the consumer boffins out there this breached CAP Code clause 32.5 (Free offers and free trials). In a nutshell this states that free offers may have multiple routes to attain the offer that are not free but a free alternative route must exist.
Thanks to antischokke for the pic