Covid-19 has been playing havoc with prize promotions. Understandably, one of the main issues has been around the award of prizes involving tickets to events and overseas travel - that's just not possible when the world is in lockdown.
So what to do?
Well, the ASA has helpfully issued new guidance to give promoters a better understanding of their options - and obligations - when things don't go to plan.
There are no new rules here, but the ASA has helpfully highlighted some of the key provisions from the CAP Code and explained how they might apply in the current circumstances. In particular, the guidance covers the following:
Making a reasonable estimate of likely demand - and how to respond when demand exceeds expectations or where events conspire so that the demand can't be met (just saying "subject to availability won't cut it);
Changing terms and conditions after the promotion has begun - only permitted where absolutely necessary and where doing so won't disadvantage entrants;
Changing the closing date - again only in exceptional circumstances and where you can be fair to those still wishing to enter and those who have already done so;
Changing the prize - if the prize is genuinely no longer available, promoters must still award some form of prize of roughly the same value.
This is a good reminder of what promoters can do when things go wrong. However, for any business thinking about running a promotion in the current climate, these issues should always be considered up front.
For example, if the prize is a hotel stay or holiday, then ensure there's some flexibility as to when the trip can be taken - for example, allow the prize to be taken in the next 12 to 18 months - and have a back up plan if it can't be taken at all.
For some promoters there are other less obvious issues. Some businesses and charities run promotions where the prize is provided for free by a third party, such as tickets to an event hosted by the third party. If the prize is no longer available because the event is cancelled, the charity would still need to award a prize, the unexpected cost of which might then have to be borne by the charity. If this is a possibility, then it would be best to agree with the prize provider up front what they might be prepared to offer in substitution.
Ultimately, the ASA's latest guidance is helpful for promoters, but it does come with a health warning. The ASA is currently trying to act sensitively towards advertisers and promoters in this time of national emergency. However, it won't stomach any attempt to take advantage of the situation or to mislead or disadvantage consumers. On that front, it is business as usual and promoters need to act fairly towards consumers and be able to demonstrate that they have planned their promotions responsibly and put in place appropriate contingencies.
Incidentally, we've already issued our own guidance on running promotions in a pandemic - check out this article by my colleague Geraint Lloyd-Taylor.
Generally speaking, promoters must be able to demonstrate that the unexpected situation made it necessary to rethink elements of the promotion, and that where this was the case, this was done in line with the rules...