I’m a big supporter of using competitions in an email marketing campaign. The promise of reward can excite even the most laid back of us, especially when there is a significant prize, for instance, £5000. When a railway company (the railway) organised a competition as part of their “Build Back Better” promotion, they expected a high level of participation, not to mention an increase in brand awareness. As they say, what could go wrong?
They had obviously given the promotion a great deal of thought and their terms and conditions included a get-out clause to allow them to cancel the competition. It seems their belief was that it was a get out of jail free card. It wasn’t. It isn’t.
The company cancelled the competition, upsetting one participant enough to make them complain, suggesting the CAP Code had not been complied with. The ASA sided with the complainant, ruling the railway had not dealt fairly with the participants and had caused unnecessary disappointment. The ruling has lessons for us in email marketing.
One justification put forward by the company was that the high-volume of low-quality submissions meaning they felt it would be unreasonable to award the prize. As a defence it was doomed from the start, as anyone in email marketing knows. If you want to invoke a cancellation clause, you need to come up with strong reasoning, and show you’ve excluded all reasonable options. It’s basic self-preservation.
Bewilderingly, the company was told any future promotions must be conducted under proper supervision. This is nothing more than a reiteration of the CAP Code.
A properly conceived and designed competition can attract the demographic you are after and expose them to your brand. If you suggest that the result will be published on your website, then you can all but guarantee a number of visits just to check. However, there is a requirement to conform to the Code.
This doesn’t mean that you should not consider a campaign which includes such a competition. After all, it’s probably the best time to opt for one given that many other companies might be a little scared of upsetting the ASA if they make a simple error. There are things to consider though.
Firstly, and obviously, any competition must comply with the CAP Code. Not only that, you must interpret it generously and not logically. In this case there was a supposedly clear clause in the conditions, which participants must have agreed to before taking part, that the competition could be cancelled. In fact, the clause was pointless. What it actually meant is that one can only be cancelled if all the CAP Code conditions are satisfied.
Virtually, the only ground for not awarding a prize is if competitors have failed to conform to the requirements published, and clearly, at the time of taking part.
It’s easy enough to avoid the wrath of the ASA if you decide to run a competition as an email marketing campaign. If you put up a prize, say of £1000, accept it has already gone.