Promotional marketing: Independent judges and observers

Apr 16th '19

Promoters must conduct their promotions equitably, promptly and efficiently and be seen to deal fairly and honourably with participants and potential participants.


The requirements for independent observers and judges are there to ensure that these prize promotions are administered properly, and can be seen to have been administered properly. They mean that participants can have confidence in the promotion’s integrity and offer the promoter protection as well. A promoter who can provide evidence from an independent judge or observer will be in a stronger position to respond should the Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) investigate complaints that a promotion is unfair.


Whether it is necessary to have an independent person, and what would be considered suitably “independent” depends on the circumstances and on whether a prize draw or a competition is being run.


When is an independent observer necessary for a prize draw?

Prize draw winners must be chosen in accordance with the laws of chance i.e. the winner needs to be drawn at random. This can be done by using a computer process that produces verifiably random results. Stating that a random process was used without providing evidence will not be sufficient (Hard Rock Café, 11 February 2015).


Computer processes can be relatively straightforward to substantiate, for example, the ASA has ruled that screenshots of a spreadsheet using a random function formula can be appropriate (Present Minded, 18 June 2014).


If such a computer process isn’t used, then the draw should be done, or supervised, by someone independent.


It’s worth emphasising that promoters need to be able to show that the winner was drawn at random. The ASA has upheld complaints that the winner was not genuine or that the winners were closely connected to the advertiser. In these cases the promoter did not provide evidence to demonstrate that the prizes were awarded to genuine winners in accordance with the laws of chance and by an independent person or under the supervision of an independent person ( 5, March 2014; ZX Recruitment, 23 July 2014; HarrisonCole, 22 October 2014).


What is “independent” for a prize draw?

It doesn’t need to be onerous to ensure a prize draw is independently supervised: marketers can use the proverbial “man in the street”.


The ASA ruled against a promotion to find a new Big Brother housemate because an independent observer was not present throughout the drawing process but implicitly accepted that an observer from the Electoral Reform Services was suitably independent (Nestle UK Ltd, 13 September 2006).


When is an independent judge necessary for a competition?

If the selection of a winning entry is open to subjective interpretation, there should always be an independent judge. If there is only one judge, they need to be independent, if there is a panel there should be a least one independent member.


The judge or panel member must be demonstrably independent, especially from the competition’s promoters and intermediaries and from the pool of entrants from which the eventual winner is picked.


Those appointed to act as judges should be competent to judge the competition and their full names must be made available on request. Paying a fee to someone to act as an independent judge would not in itself be considered to compromise their independence.


The ASA ruled that a promotion was unfairly administered and breached the Code where the promoter did not provide details of the independent panel of judges (Rebecca Penny t/a Bridleworks 28 January 2015).


What is “independent” for a competition?

In a competition to win ‘Property Woman of the Year’ the promoter was able to satisfy the ASA that two of the three judges it used were independent: one was an editor of a national newspaper and the other was the chairman of an unrelated trade association (Bradford & Bingley plc, 9 July 2008).


Who isn’t independent?

The promoter and the sponsor who provided the prize would not be considered independent. A competition run by Weleda UK was upheld by the ASA because the judging panel was made up of three Weleda employees, and there was no independent person present (Weleda UK Ltd, 2 May 2018).  We do not think that agencies who have worked on campaign, or lawyers who advised on it, would be considered independent.


Who might be independent?

We would expect that Trading Standards officers, auditors, solicitors, or a representative of the promoter’s trade association or similar are likely to be considered appropriate, provided they are demonstrably impartial and unconnected to the running of the promotion. In 2015, a promotion which used an external organisation which was contacted on an ad hoc basis to randomly select winners was not upheld (Rebecca Garret Media Ltd t/a Winning Moments, 16 December 2015).


Is it possible to handle some judging administration in house?


The Promotional Marketing and Direct Response Panel (PMDRP) considers that it would be reasonable for some filtering of entries to be done by, say, a handling house (for example, tie-breakers that were longer than the required length). Filtering that goes beyond excluding entries that do not meet entry criteria would need to use a process which had been agreed by the independent judge in order to be considered acceptable.


Observers or competition judges should not have a contractual relationship with the promoter or work for a company that has a contractual relationship with the promoter if the nature of the contractual relationship could compromise their independence. For promotions carried out by publications, staff who were involved in designing, negotiating or administering the promotion are likely to be conflicted. Given the rise of contextually targeted branded content the Panel now considers that there is unlikely to be enough separation between the editorial and promotional departments of publications for editorial staff to act as independent judges or observers.


The Panel’s definition would not necessarily exclude individuals or companies, such as lawyers, auditors, advisors, accountants or respected trade bodies, with a normal contractual relationship with the promoter or people or companies that were paid a fee to act as the independent observer if they could demonstrate their independence.


Source: Committee of Advertising Practice (CAP)


Note: This advice is given by the CAP Executive about non-broadcast advertising. It does not constitute legal advice. It does not bind CAP, CAP advisory panels or the Advertising Standards Authority.


CAP’s AdviceOnline entries provide guidance on interpreting the UK Code of Non-broadcast Advertising and Direct & Promotional Marketing.


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