ASA ruling highlights the small print

17 November 2008

One of the rules that we at Bitterwallet live our life by is: "2. Always read the small print." In fact we've a laminated list of rules on the back of the toilet door, just to give us something to read when Andy forgets to leave a copy of the Daily Sport in there.

Thing is, you shouldn't always have to read the small print, especially when it's financial detail that might play a significant factor in committing to a contract.

The Advertising Standards Agency (ASA) has upheld a complaint for exactly that reason, which may mean a little more muscle for consumers in the future. The guilty party in question was Virgin Wines Online Ltd, who ran an online promotion offering a £40 WineBank voucher to redeem at their online store. Two people complained about the deal, because it wasn't made clear amongst the promotional information that using the voucher meant joining the Virgin's WineBank, which in turn required committing to making monthly payments. Aha.

Virgin Wines argued that they stated there'd be a monthly commitment on both the voucher  and at the online checkout when making the initial payment, though the ASA countered that the voucher's phrasing "using it gives you an account at our WineBank" didn't clarify much at at all. In summing up, the ASA said:

"...when customers went online to make a purchase, the terms and conditions clarified all this information and we therefore understood that customers would be made aware of their commitment prior to making their purchase. We considered however that, as a significant condition, the subscription-basis should have been made clear on the voucher itself... any significant conditions, likely to influence consumers' understanding of promotions, should be clarified on their marketing material."

This is good news, in that it sets a precedent with regards to the marketing of products: customers shouldn't be lured in by dazzling headline offers without having any hidden agendas such as minimum subscriptions explained upfront. Hopefully companies will get round to changing the font size on some of that small print.

3 comments

  • Jeff L.
    Hooray! I was sent one of these famous vouchers as a thank you for renewing a mag subscription. Some thanks. It's not just the font size but the text itself that needs to be clear enough to read at a glance. But thanks for highlighting this one.
  • Redsave B.
    [...] of information concerning Redsave’s actions. The ASA clearly wasn’t happy with them; as Virgin Wines learnt recently, you shouldn’t always have to read the small print, especially when it’s financial detail that [...]
  • The B.
    [...] This is the same Virgin Wines promotion the Advertising Standards Agenecy banned over a year ago, because nowhere on the voucher does it state that in order to redeem it you’ll have to open an account and make monthly payments. When the ASA upheld complaints against Virgin Wines they stated: The subscription-basis should have been made clear on the voucher itself… any significant conditions, likely to influence consumers’ understanding of promotions, should be clarified on their marketing material.” [...]

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