An email from PayPal featured the subject line “[Name] long time no see. Here’s a £10 reward for you!” The headline claim in the body of the email stated “We’re giving you £10 to use online with PayPal” followed by a clickable “Save Offer” button.
Small text below stated “Limited to first 28,527 to save offer”. Several graphics appeared further down the email, each referring to the £10 offer. Each was accompanied by small print, saying “Be the first 28,527 customers to save this offer to your account.”
The complainant, who had not been able to claim the £10 reward, challenged whether the subject line and headline claims were misleading because they did not make sufficiently clear that the offer was available only to the first 28,527 customers.
PayPal pointed out that the £10 offer was accompanied with text referring to the limit on numbers every time it appeared in the email. They said that they had designed the email to include this significant condition, rather than putting it in general terms and conditions. They also said that the text appeared close to the “Save offer” button, and that they did not believe it would be possible for a customer to click “Save Offer” without being aware of the limit on availability.
The ASA decided that the qualifications were “not sufficient to counter the overriding impression given by the headline claims, regardless of its size and prominence in relation to them”. In particular, consumers would understand the claims “Here’s a £10 reward for you!” and “We’re giving you £10” as meaning that everyone receiving the email was eligible for the reward. The complaint was therefore upheld.
It was no doubt unhelpful that the subject line claim was not qualified at all until the recipient opened the email. However, is notable that this was not a matter of qualifying wording being insufficiently prominent: the ASA said that this wording would not have been effective to save the main claims “regardless of its size and prominence”.
The ASA did not comment on whether different wording could have saved the headline claims, but it is difficult to see how the words “Limited to first 28,527 to save offer” could have been any clearer. The problem therefore appears to have been the headline claims, which gave a misleading impression that could not be corrected.
While it can be tempting to overreach with a potentially misleading headline claim, hoping to correct it with “small print”, advertisers should be aware that it may not be possible to correct the misleading impression given by a headline claim using qualifying wording. It is essential to ensure that the headline claim itself is not misleading.