Five stars for unfairness

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So this post is on an ASA ruling from a couple of weeks ago, which I’ve been meaning to blog about. It concerns a Facebook prize draw run by a digital marketing agency called Vindicta, which, I’ve got to be honest, could be an Apprentice team. Also, I wonder why you’d give your company a name that sounds like ‘vindictive’?

The prize in this Facebook prize draw was a stay for two at a hotel in Northern Ireland, 50 miles or so from Belfast. To enter the draw, which ran for a month, you had to like the Vindicta Digital page, tag three or more friends in the comments and share the post to your timeline. To my mind that’s quite an arduous entry mechanism and I’d question whether, if the objective was to grow the company’s Facebook following, the strategy was going to be effective, but OK.

Then about ten days into the promotion, additional text was posted to the comments section of the original post, stating, “We’ve decided to give everyone another way of increasing their chances of winning this competition… LEAVE us a 5 STAR REVIEW on Facebook and DOUBLE YOUR ENTRY…” (Vindicta seem rather fond of capitals.)

The complaint to the ASA challenged whether the promotion was conducted fairly, because another entry route was added after the promotion had begun, encouraging participants to leave reviews that were potentially not genuine. The ASA asked Vindicta for a response, but didn’t get one, at least not a ‘substantive’ one, which in itself is a breach of the CAP Code.

Vindicta also breached the CAP Code, because promoters are obliged to conduct promotions fairly. The update which gave an additional route of entry was a significant change to the terms and conditions of the promotion. This put entrants who had participated under the original terms and conditions at a disadvantage, effectively lowering their chances of winning, particularly if they were not in a position or prepared to leave a five-star review for the company. Consequently, the ASA ruled that Vindicta had misled entrants and not treated them fairly.

The ASA was also concerned that, because the promotion was open to all, the additional entry route meant that participants, who might or might not have been actual customers of Vindicta Digital, were incentivised to leave five-star reviews. As a result, those reviews might not necessarily reflect the genuine opinions of the people who provided them. The ASA’s own view was that it was unfair to expect participants to give such reviews as a condition of enhancing their chances of winning and that those favourable reviews submitted as additional entries were likely to mislead prospective customers.

You can’t change terms and conditions mid-way through a prize draw and you can’t use the promise of a prize to produce five-star reviews, but I understand that people can inadvertently make a promotion unfair. I also appreciate that it’s not easy to think things through properly and mistakes can and do happen. However, in my moral universe you have to accept any mistakes you make and work hard to understand how you can improve your practice, so I find it particularly disappointing that Vindicta doesn’t seem to have co-operated with the ASA in its investigation of this complaint.

Just out of curiosity I took a look at Vindicta’s Facebook page and indeed three five-star reviews were posted on the day and the day after that change to the terms and conditions of the promotion was made. In the circumstances, I wonder whether they should be allowed to stand. In the same time-frame, though, there’s also a one-star review accompanied by the comment, “As a marketer I find it horrendous that a ‘marketing company’ would ask people to post FAKE 5 STAR REVIEWS to their page to gain entry to a competition on their Facebook page. DREADFUL practice.” (Caps ironic, I assume.) Although I leave the judgements to the ASA, that rather sums up my feelings, too.

Sarah Burns is Prizeology’s Chief Prizeologist.

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