The rules are clear - significant qualifications must be stated clearly in advertisements.
For example, if an email claims "20% off online" and the discount only applies if the customer spends a minimum of £50, that should be made clear in the ad. The minimum spend information is significant and its existence changes the initial meaning of the headline claim. The consumer needs to know the minimum spend instantly so they can make an informed choice about whether to respond to the ad and visit the website.
The requirement seems straightforward enough but marketers regularly get it wrong. That's because it's not necessarily enough to ensure an ad includes the information, it must be communicated effectively to prevent consumers from being misled and making a complaint.
So what are the various nuances to consider when communicating significant information? Incidentally, the CAP Code rules are qualified by CAP's guidance note on how they apply in practice. As a starting point, qualifying claims must be clearly legible and catch the reader's attention. The guidance goes on to acknowledge that there will be instances when qualifying a claim, no matter how prominent, does not go far enough in removing the misleading impression of the headline. Taking the above example for instance, it might not be sufficient to state the minimum spend in the body copy text – the ASA is likely to take the view that the minimum spend information deserves more prominence and that the only way to communicate it effectively would be in the headline claim itself i.e. "20% off online when you spend over £50".
The guidance also introduces the notion of a 'qualifying ladder' which acknowledges that ads can generally be broken down into headlines, sub-headings, body copy and footnotes. The ladder allows essential qualifications to be communicated no more than one step away. Again using the above example the ASA might therefore deem it sufficient to communicate the minimum spend in a sub-heading rather than in the headline claim itself providing that the sub heading will catch the reader's attention as well. For secondary non-essential information, the ladder becomes redundant and allows for less significant information to appear less prominently. For example the fact the 20% discount cannot be used in conjunction with other offers could be communicated in a footnote.
Marketers can use an asterisk to account for one rung of the ladder. Again, using the above example, this would potentially allow the headline "20% off online" to be linked via an asterisk to the minimum spend stated in the body copy thus bypassing the need to state it in the sub-heading. The initial asterisk at the headline giving consumers a clear indication that qualifying information exists and sign posting directly to it. However marketers are advised to proceed with caution if the qualifying information is so significant that it will affect the consumers understanding of the headline claim.
As well as being mindful of the above, businesses should give consideration to context. For example, a consumer might be inclined to open an email if the subject heading in their inbox states "20% off online orders" and subsequently become disappointed to find that the discount is conditional on a £50 minimum spend if that fact is buried in the email itself. As far as the ASA is concerned, the detriment occurs in making the consumer waste time reading the email which they might otherwise had deleted if they had known straight away that they were required to spend £50 in order to qualify for the headline discount.
For sales promotions in particular, ads limited by time and/or space must include as much detail as is practical and direct readers to an easily accessible alternative source where significant conditions are prominently stated. Businesses should be mindful that it would not necessarily be a defence that you are limited by the formatting and/or creative layout of your advertisement. Therefore whilst the above might apply in the context of a banner advertisement or Tweet which are generally seen as being limited by space, it is unlikely to apply because the creative formatting of your web page or email means that you are limited in the information you are willing to communicate.
Businesses are advised to take a practical approach and review their marketing communications as they would be read by the average consumer. If in doubt seek a second opinion from a colleague. Ultimately, if your headline claim doesn't paint the full picture, its likely that the qualifying information should be more prominent .