With the use of social media, competitions have become easier to set up for brands – they can be run on third party platforms such as Facebook as well as the brand’s website without necessarily having to get entrants to buy a product or send off a postal application form.
Although social media can be used by brands to create more interactive competitions and reach a wider audience, it raises additional risks that brands and the competition promoters need to be aware of to ensure that their competition complies with all relevant rules and regulations, and are operated fairly.
The weekly ASA rulings show that competitions are frequently running into trouble with how they are operated. This causes not just embarrassment and damage to the brand, but potential financial costs in responding to the ASA inquiry and paying out prizes to the consumers contrary to the original competition idea. Perhaps the most obvious example of the damage that can be done to a brand when a competition is mismanaged is the Hoover flights fiasco of the early 1990’s.
So, what should a brand and the promoter of a competition be considering when operating a competition through social media?
The starting point remains the same when operating a competition online as it is offline.
Section 8 of the CAP Code sets out the guidelines that must be adhered to, and the minimum information that must be supplied to the consumers. It is the promoter who is responsible for ensuring that the competition is run according to the requirements of section 8.
Although it is tempting to ignore the terms and conditions documents found on websites (which are typically drafted by lawyers using old fashioned legal terminology that goes over the head of most readers), if you miss an important requirement it could lead to the competition being blocked on the platform.
Helpfully, the 140 character limit on Twitter should not be seen as preventing a dynamic competition being run through a series of tweets. Although the competition terms and conditions that should contain the required Code information can be linked to a website for the consumer to review before they enter a competition, the ASA have stated that the main conditions required from the CAP Code can be notified to users in the tweets themselves, although the promoter would be well advised to frequently re-tweet the information to ensure it is brought to users attention before the competition is entered.
Promoters should be aware of local consumer laws that apply to the territory where the online competition can be entered. It is perhaps tempting to open a competition to entrants from outside the UK; after all, the point of social media is to engage with people as part of a conversation between the brand and the consumers. However, if you target a competition to consumers in their local territory, then the consumer will most likely be able to claim that their local consumer laws apply, including the minimum legal standards for running competitions in that territory. Unless local law advice is therefore obtained, promoters should ensure that competitions on social media are clearly stated to be open to residents of the UK only.
Engagement with consumers via social media can open new avenues for the brand by allowing user generated content and personal data to be submitted which, subject to the relevant permissions being obtained via the competition terms and conditions, can be used for other commercial and promotional purposes. For example videos or photographs submitted by users as part of the competition, could be used as part of wider marketing strategy by the brand outside of the competition itself.
Using social media does create new challenges to ensure the competition itself is run fairly. For example, unscrupulous entrants may use software programmes to increase the number of votes submitted in a competition. If cookies are used to block more than one entry to a competition from the same computer device, all it takes is for the user to delete the cookies to obtain another opportunity to enter. In addition, if the promoter has developed a piece of software to receive entrants and to randomly awards prizes to the correct entries, there is the risk that a bug in the software mismanages the process and the ‘wrong’ winners are announced.
To avoid the public embarrassment caused by an ASA adjudication, as well as the brand damage that can quickly escalate on social media platforms, it is perhaps more important than ever to therefore ensure that competition terms and conditions are well drafted (and in plain English). The promoter needs to ensure that, not only have they adhered to local and consumer laws, and to the requirements set out by the social media platform itself, but that they set out sufficient protection to manage any abuse of the competition online and protect themselves against their own unintentional mistakes.
Associate, Interactive Media
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