The Boy Scouts of America failed to get their compliance badge from CARU earlier this month after the BSA ran a sweepstakes ad that lacked the appropriate odds of winning disclosures.  The BSA’s Boy’s Life Magazine failed to include the “Many Will Enter, Five Will Win” odds statement in the magazine’s ad announcing the sweeps, even though the odds were included in the full rules and on the website where the kids could enter.

The BSA contended that online entry was the only method of entry offered and the disclosures were prominently made there, in a form that matches CARU’s own recommended phrasing. Nevertheless, CARU determined that a child looking at the magazine ad could develop an unrealistic expectation of winning the sweepstakes because even though the BSA’s website adequately presented the necessary disclosures, the advertisement did not.  CARU reasoned that the child’s first contact with a sweepstakes is usually the advertisement itself, so the fact that any confusion may be cleared up at a later time does not cure an advertisement that is misleading in the first instance.

The BSA case emphasizes the importance for marketers and advertisers of properly drafting an abbreviated rules statement and including it in the promotional materials for the sweepstakes.  Many companies fail to put an odds statement in abbreviated rules targeting child and adult audiences, even though many state laws (not just the CARU guidelines) specifically require the disclosure of this information in advertising.  Other information that must be disclosed in sweepstakes advertising includes eligibility requirements, prize values, entry deadlines, sponsor name, information about how to obtain the rules, and the standard “no purchase necessary” and “void where prohibited” statements.

This case, like many other CARU cases, serves as a fairly routine but nonetheless important reminder of the fundamental principle that odds must be clearly and simply disclosed in advertising sweepstakes and contests—but fundamental does not mean that it’s not important to get it right.  The BSA, for its part, promised to modify its practices so that all Boys’ Life advertisers will be required to include appropriate odds of winning disclosures in their print ads going forward.  In other words, the BSA said that the ads will be fixed, scout’s honor.