Using algorithms to select winners: two rulings and three key considerations.
For promoters, the use of algorithms is becoming an increasingly popular way to select winners for their prize promotions. This method certainly has its benefits, for example; using a verifiably random algorithm can give advertisers a way to easily demonstrate that the winners in their instant win promotions were selected fairly and randomly (in line with rule 8.25).
However, the number of prizes actually awarded can sometimes be significantly lower than those advertised as available. Whilst this in itself may not break the rules, ads must include enough information about the selection process to enable consumers to understand what their chances of winning actually are, before they decide whether or not to participate.
To make sure that your ads make this clear, take a moment to consider these three key points arising from two recent rulings.
- Don’t exaggerate
Ads for prize promotions must not mislead by exaggerating consumers chances of winning prizes (rule 8.20). If an ad states that thousands of prizes are available to be won, but only a small amount will actually get awarded, this is likely to mislead consumers who could reasonably think that the large number of prizes increases their chances of winning.
Make sure the ad includes enough information to clarify to the consumer how likely they are to win, for example by giving an explanation of the winner selection mechanism and an indication of the number of prizes likely to be awarded.
A complaint about an ad which stated “£3 million of prizes available”, for a promotion in which only 0.56% of these prizes were actually awarded, was upheld by the Advertising Standards Authority (ASA). As the likelihood of winning a prize (and therefore the number of prizes that had actually been won) was so extremely low, the overall impression created by the package significantly exaggerated the likelihood that consumers would win the prizes. The ASA therefore ruled that the ads should have given a realistic indication of the chances of winning, to ensure that consumers could make an informed decision on whether participation was worthwhile.
- Include enough information
Algorithms are often complicated and ads don’t need to include an overly detailed description of how they work. However, all ads should include enough information so that consumers can easily understand how prizes are allocated, and have a reasonable understanding of their chances of winning (rule 8.17).
A complaint about an ad for Highland Spring was upheld because the ad did not make it clear how prizes were allocated or awarded, or the likelihood of participants winning. It said “Enter online “instant” win at www.highlandspring.com/H20omph & enter details, bottle batch code and time stamp”, but in reality prizes were allocated to those who entered their details at exactly the right second, that had been randomly selected and assigned to a prize by a computer. If no one happened to enter their details during the one second ‘winning moment’, the prize associated with that moment would not be won, and as such it was possible that the number of prizes allocated was significantly lower than the 10,000 advertised. This meant that the chances of winning a prize were much lower than the information on the label suggested, and the ASA ruled that the ad should have clearly explained the mechanism.
- State all relevant information on the ad itself
The ASA has ruled that the terms that relate to the awarding of prizes are likely to significantly influence a consumer’s understanding and decision to participate in a promotion. As such, this information should be included on the promotional pack and any initial marketing communications. Including this information only in the full terms and conditions, won’t be sufficient.
Source: Committees of Advertising Practice
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