Free Claims: Exploring the Dos and Don'ts in Advertising

Danielle Lowe
By Danielle Lowe

Danielle Lowe is the Marketing Manager for ConsultingRoom.com, (www.consultingroom.com) the UK’s largest aesthetic information website. 


Consumers are always on the lookout for a good deal or two, and there’s no better deal than not having to pay a single penny! But advertisers must be wary of making claims that seem too good to be true. Indeed, the Advertising Codes state that marketers must not use the term “free”, or similar, to describe a product if consumers must pay anything other than the unavoidable cost of responding and collecting or paying for delivery of the item.

While most consumers will understand that it’s unlikely for a company to just give products away for the fun of it, the ASA expects advertisers to make the extent of any conditions or commitments clear. Here’s some advice to help you stay ‘free’ from any upheld ASA rulings.

Pure ‘free’ claims – they’re young, wild, but are they ‘free’?

Pure “free” claims refer to instances where consumers will receive something without paying any money or other form of consideration, except for the “unavoidable” and “true” cost of responding, collecting, or delivering the item.

It’s perfectly fair to charge the consumer for the minimum unavoidable cost of postage, but advertisers must not inflate delivery costs, or include any packaging costs or handling fees in this postage cost, as doing so would make the “free” claim inaccurate, and misleading.

If it’s not purely ‘free’, don’t claim that it is.

Have you got free range with package offers?

You should not say part of a package is "free" if that element is included in the package price, unless consumers are likely to regard it as an additional benefit, e.g. because it has recently been added to the package without increasing its price.

The ASA has previously ruled against an ad which said an SD card that was sold with a camera was “free” because the same camera was available for a lower price on its own, and so the SD card was clearly part of a package rather than a genuinely “free” item.

It’s also likely to be problematic to describe delivery as “free”, where the cost of delivery is included in a fixed subscription price.

Don’t allow conditional purchase promotions to go into free fall!

Marketers are allowed to use the term “free” when receiving a free product or service is contingent on consumers purchasing another item - provided the quality of the paid-for item has not been reduced, and the paid-for item’s price has not been increased to cover the cost of supplying the free item. 

The ASA has upheld complaints about multiple ads which described gifts offered with a subscription as “free” because, on those occasions, the price had been increased to cover the cost of the gift, and the same subscription was also on sale without the gift for a lower price. For more on this, see the advice here.  

For further advice, read the ASA guidance and check out this resource on Use of ‘free’ claims. If you would like further, bespoke advice on your non-broadcast ads, their Copy Advice team would be happy to help.

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