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Ad watchdog warns over ‘free’ claims

Some items not free but part of the deal, says Cap

Advertisers must be cautious about claiming their goods and services are ‘free’, the industry watchdog has warned.

Clever pricing structures often make it difficult for consumers to tell what is included in a deal and what is a free extra, the Committee of Advertising Practice (Cap) said.

Some advertisers have been rapped for claiming something was ‘free’ when in fact it was integral to their offer.

‘Free’ claims guide

Cap and the Broadcast Committee of Advertising Practice (Bcap), which draw up rules for print and broadcast adverts, have produced new guidance about ‘free’ claims.

‘Over the last few years, pricing structures in some sectors have become more sophisticated, making it difficult for consumers – and regulators – to tell what is included in the price and what is given as a free “extra”,’ Cap said.

Carphone Warehouse adverts describing its new broadband service as ‘free forever’ drew 145 objections last year, making it one of the most complained-about campaigns of 2006.


The Advertising Standards Authority upheld the complaints, saying the advert was misleading and the availability of the service was insufficiently explained.

Promoters must not try to cover their costs by inflating the price of a product as a condition of its being free, the guidance says. And they must not describe something as ‘free’ if that cost is included in a package deal.

For example, some mobile phone subscriptions include a certain amount of texts, calls and voicemail.


‘Because customers cannot exercise genuine choice over how many elements they receive for the price paid, the elements are all included in the package price and may not be described as “free”,’ Cap said.

Marketing material may describe offers as being free if the consumer can choose whether or not to take a certain element of a deal and pay the same price regardless.

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