The Children’s Advertising Review Unit (CARU) recommended that Dave & Buster’s discontinue the claim in its advertising that children may play video games for free because CARU found that this claim was contradicted by the material conditions and limitations disclosed in the accompanying fine print legal disclaimer.

Dave & Buster’s aired a 15-second commercial in which a boy states, “Just tell us ‘kids rule’ and you can play video games free until 3!” Simultaneously, “Free video games until 3PM” was displayed in a large, bold font. In a much smaller legal disclosure at the bottom of the screen, the conditions and limitations of the offer appeared, stating, among several conditions, that the promotion required a same-day $20 purchase.

Since these claims are presumably targeted at children, CARU assessed these claims based on how a reasonable child would interpret the message, and further indicated that the word “free” carries significant clout and should only be used in children’s advertising when offers are truly free. Because the child or the parent would have to pay a fee, CARU concluded that the claim was false. CARU emphasized that a disclosure may only clarify a misleading impression and cannot cure a false claim. Thus, CARU recommend Dave & Buster’s to discontinue the “free” play claim altogether.

TIP: This decision serves as a reminder that extra care should be taken when promoting “free” offers to children. Companies should ensure that “free” offers directed to children are in fact free and are not subject to material conditions or limitations that children might not fully understand.