Compliance and complaints

This is very much a touch-wood scenario, and I’ve got my fingers and toes crossed that I’m not tempting fate in this post, but a promotion Prizeology has been involved in running has not been the subject of a complaint to the ASA. Note the negative there. No one has complained to the ASA about a Prizeology promotion, but I’m realistic and I know that it’s easy for members of the public to make a complaint and it could happen.

At Prizeology we give clear and accurate good practice advice, and we write robust terms and conditions. These are two of the areas we specialise in and we’re familiar with the short and long of all the regulations which are relevant to prize promotions.

We know the CAP Code inside out and go to great lengths to make sure we are aware of the latest changes to it, and we also keep on top of recent adjudications by the ASA, because they are, if you like, the case law for prize promotions. We’re professionals and we just like to get things right, but also, of course, rule changes are likely to impact on our clients and their projects.

However, with the best will – and knowledge – in the world, promotions can occasionally go wrong and it only takes one person to file a complaint with the ASA for it to launch an investigation. The good news is that this is not a numbers game. A single complaint may prompt the ASA to take action, but it’s wise to co-ordinated campaigns and won’t respond simply because it receives 53 complaints about a promotion. What it looks at is whether the rules have been broken.

In fact – more good news – around 80% of the complaints it receives are about advertising or promotions which don’t break the rules, so although if a complaint is made against you, the ASA will get in touch to let you know, it certainly doesn’t formally investigate every complaint.

If it does decide the issue is serious and merits a formal investigation, though, it will ask the promoter whose promotion is the subject of the complaint to respond to it and provide any evidence to support its point of view. That response needs to be sent within seven working days or, if there is potential harm or offence, with five working days.

When you read the ASA’s complaints rulings, as I do on a weekly basis, it’s actually quite surprising how some companies appear not to have responded and haven’t offered any kind of defence. If you don’t reply you can be deemed to have automatically broken the CAP Code, but, I mean, why would you not want to explain your actions and put your side of the argument?

What happens next is that the ASA assesses the promotion against the complaint, requesting further clarification, evidence or independent expert advice if necessary. It then drafts a response, which includes a recommended course of action, and this is sent to the relevant parties to give them an opportunity to comment on its accuracy.

All rulings are confirmed by the ASA Council. In any case where its members don’t agree, they vote on whether to uphold the complaint or not. The promoter and complainant are then notified of the date when the ruling, and details of any action that must be taken, will be published, although everything is confidential until that time.

ASA rulings are increasingly picked up by the media, particularly when there are well-known brands involved, and that’s when the reputational damage kicks in. Of course, many rulings concern small companies few have heard of – property raffles, for example, are a frequent focus for complaints and they don’t tend to be run by high-profile businesses – but in recent times complaints have been upheld against a number of big names, for instance earlier this year I wrote about a ruling against entertainment retailer Zaavi and I’m sure we all know the trouble influencer Louise Thompson got herself into with the ASA.

Just to state the completely obvious, I sincerely hope that no client of Prizeology and no prize promotion Prizeology in involved in running ever finds themselves the subject of a complaint to the ASA, but forearmed is forewarned in my book, and it’s always good to remind ourselves why prize promotions compliance is so important.

Sarah Burns is Prizeology’s Chief Prizeologist. 

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