Watch out for your sales promotions

When you are running a sales promotion, it is important to make sure that you don't breach any self-regulatory rules.  The ASA recently upheld complaints about a competition for subscribers to The Sun’s Dream Team fantasy football competition to win a date with a Page Three girl. Helen Hart looks at what the decision means for advertisers and their legal advisers.

What was the promotion about?

An email sent to subscribers to The Sun's Dream Team fantasy football competition invited subscribers to create a Mini League and said that if they recruited more than ten players to it they would be entered into a prize draw for a date with a Page Three girl, saying:

'Don't listen to your girlfriend when she says size doesn't matter. The bigger your Mini League is, the more prizes you can get your mitts on.'

It also included the wording:

'We might even let you pick which one, so feel free to start your research now...'

How many complaints were there?

The ASA received 1,036 complaints, many of which were submitted as part of a campaign led by a global campaign organisation called SumOfUs.org. The complainants said that to offer a date with a Page Three girl as a prize was sexist and objectified women, and challenged whether the advertisement was offensive and socially irresponsible. Many of the complainants also challenged whether the ad was socially irresponsible for offering a date with a Page Three girl as an incentive to gamble. The ASA investigated the complaints under the UK Code of Advertising, Direct Marketing and Sales Promotions, rr 1.3 (responsible advertising), 4.1 (harm and offence), 8.7 (sales promotions), and 16.1 (gambling) of the (CAP code).

How did The Sun justify the advertisement?

News UK & Ireland Ltd trading as The Sun explained that Page Three celebrities (both male and female) had featured as mini-league chairmen and participated in the Dream Team game and their inclusion was not sexist, nor did it objectify women. They said they did not use seductive, glamorous or inappropriate images in their promotional emails or on their website. They also highlighted that Page Three was an associated brand of The Sun and its use in the promotion was not random or unconnected. They believed their audience would understand the link between the two brands. Page Three celebrities were people who their readers would know and would like the opportunity to meet, and they ran promotions involving the chance to meet both men and women. The Sun believed that the promotion was appropriate for their target audience. They said approximately 93% of the recipients of the email were male and comprised of either previous or current Dream Team players and so the email would not cause offence to those recipients. Finally, they highlighted that there were other prizes as well. The Sun also said that while Page Three celebrities might be considered famous and attractive people, their attractiveness was not portrayed as a result of, or connected to, the act of gambling. It was not intended to incentivise new people to gamble.

What did the ASA say?

The ASA considered that the advertisement indirectly promoted a gambling product. In the context of the advertisement, it considered that to offer a date with a woman as a reward for success in the game was demeaning to women and objectified those offered as prizes. It also considered that the wording 'we might even let you pick which one, so feel free to start your research now ...', further enhanced the impression that the women were simply objects to be selected at the whim and enjoyment of the winner, and had no choice in the matter themselves. The ASA also considered that the primary motivation of a number of players, both male and female, when signing up to the Dream Team game would be their interest in sport and fantasy football. It considered they would not necessarily expect a date with a Page Three girl to be offered as a prize and that the notion of offering a date with a woman as a prize was likely to be offensive to a number of recipients. Because the ASA considered that the email presented the women as objects to be won, it concluded that it was sexist, offensive and socially irresponsible and therefore breached the CAP Code.

What are the implications for advertisers and their legal advisers?

It is nothing new for the ASA to be upholding complaints about advertisements that are considered to be sexist. However, it is of note that there was a concerted campaign to direct complaints to the ASA on this particular promotion, and advertisers should be aware that this could happen more and more. Social media makes it easy for groups to engage support for complaints. It is not unusual for competitions to feature prizes of meetings with celebrities such as sporting stars, but in this case the promotion was carried out in a way that left it open to challenge.

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