Readers Digest Direct Mail Advertisement
12 February 2010
Complainant: R. Baker
Advertisement: Readers Digest
Complaint: The personally addressed direct mail advertisement said: (in part)
"R. BAKER IMPORTANT! ARE YOU READY TO RECEIVE A $500,000.00 CHEQUE AT ... ........ ST? R. BAKER, YOU ARE ADVISED TO RESPOND WITHOUT DELAY FOR YOUR CHANCE TO WIN.
Dear R. Baker,...".
Text below indicated that the R. Baker could win $500,000.000 and that she was in a selected minority to whom the offer had been extended. The advertisement said: "In fact, the percentage of households in your position is less than 13%. What's more, past experience tells us that only 1 in 7 selected candidates will respond to the enclosed offer.
Therefore, we rushed the enclosed sheet of five draw vouchers to you as fast as we could so you wouldn't lose a single moment for your chance at $500,000.00 or more!"
Entry into the competition required the recipient to subscribe to the Readers Digest and included the following:
"TAKE ADVANTAGE OF ALL YOUR BENEFITS
Return your vouchers in the YES envelope to make sure of all your benefits including Reader's Digest for 12 months at only $3.90 an issue, saving over $2.00 off the regular price of $5.99, plus postage and handling of just 250 per issue. You're under no obligation to continue receiving Reader's Digest."
Complainant, R. Baker, referred to Complaints Board Decision 06/190, where the Complaints Board had upheld a different advertisement from the same Advertiser, and suggested that the advertisement before her made similar claims and offers. Concerns raised were:
1. Vouchers - this is misleading as the actual draw is not until the end of the year 2010 - yet the reply deadline is usually only 7 or maximum 14 days!!
2. Why do they include a "Yes" and a "No" envelope?
3. Notice of Qualification - "It says 87% of NZ households have been eliminated - HOW? then 13% have been cleared to advance (advance to where?) and lastly only 1 in 7 will be winning. What does 1 in 7 mean in actual numbers - and does this only apply to NZ or Australia as well?
4. Draws: "Rules" in fine print said: "Open to residents of Australia & New Zealand aged 18 years or older. The PROMOTION opens on 23.12.09 and closes 10.12.10 All winners will be drawn in Ultimo NSW (not NZ!)
To be eligible to enter the draw you must reply in accordance with the conditions specified in this Promotion.
5. There was no evidence that anyone had ever won anything, and the Complainant was of the view that the promotion "primarily focused on the elderly and vulnerable people who are tricked into believing they have won (especially since the T&C are in very fine print).
The relevant provisions were Basic Principle 4 and Rule 2 of the Code of Ethics.
The Chairman noted the range of issues raised by R. Baker in relation to the Reader's Digest direct mail advertisement. She also noted that R. Baker referred to Complaints Board decision 06/190.
In making her ruling the Chairman took into account where that Decision said:
"The Complaints Board acknowledged that advertising by its very nature, often contained language and statements which could be described as "hyperbolic". However, the Complaints Board was of the view that the accumulation of all the statements and calls to action in the advertisement before it went beyond acceptable hyperbole, conveying an extreme and over optimistic impression that a recipient of the mailer was a likely "winner". Accordingly, in its view, the advertisement crossed over the line from being hyperbolic in nature, to creating an overall impression which by implication and use of exaggerated claims would be likely to mislead the consumer.
Having made the above observations, the Complaints Board said that advertisement as a whole failed to meet the test of truthful presentation as required by Rule 2 of the Code of Ethics, and thereby was in breach of that rule."
The Chairman noted that the advertisement before her did not contain the same level of optimism regarding the chance to win and thereby she acknowledged that the Advertiser had made an effort to comply with the Decision in a self-regulatory manner.
Addressing each of the Complainant's concerns about the current advertisement she said that various concerns such as the origin of the addresses and names of people to whom the offer had been sent, the matter of the "Yes" and "No" envelopes for responding to the offer, the fact that the draw was to in held Ultimo NSW and the timing of the draw, concerned aspects mainly regarding the structure of the "lucky draw" offer and these did not fall under the Advertising Codes. The Chairman was of the view that these queries could be addressed to the Advertiser themselves and were not matters which fell within the Complaints Board's ambit.
Furthermore, the query regarding the "Notice of Qualification" issue, and the claim that "87% of NZ households have been eliminated" and "13% have been cleared to advance" were matters that the Complainant could raise directly with the advertiser, as those aspects of the advertisement did not in themselves make the offer misleading.
Similarly, the Chairman said that the claim that "1 in 7 will be winning" which the Complainant suggested was misleading because it may refer to both Australians and New Zealanders, did not in the context of the advertisement as a whole, reach the threshold to be likely to deceive or mislead the consumer, and similarly, could be referred to the Advertiser for clarification.
Having assessed all aspects of the complaint, the Chairman was of the view that the advertising material as a whole fell into the package of obvious hyperbole, and although of genuine concern to R. Baker, who had the well-being of her fellow citizens in mind, it did not reach the threshold to mislead or deceive consumers and there was no apparent breach of Rule 2 of the Code of Ethics. Furthermore, the Chairman was of the view that the advertisement met the due standard of social responsibility required by Basic Principle 4 of the Code of Ethics.
Accordingly, the Chairman ruled that there were no grounds to proceed.
Chairman's Ruling: Complaint No Grounds to Proceed