The Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) has published a guidance note to assist marketers who want to advertise a product or service as “free”. The ASA enforces the CAP Code (the code of practice that seeks to ensure that adverts are not misleading) and, although the CAP Code does not have legal force, it is best practice to comply with it, as failure to do so can result in bad publicity and ultimately an inability to obtain advertising space.
The ASA has published the guidance due to the various ways in which the word “free” can be used in an advert. The guidance states that products and services can only be described as “free” if consumers do not have to pay anything for those products and services other than the actual costs of responding to the advert. This is to prevent advertisers increasing, for example, delivery charges so that the product can be offered “free”.
The guidance also states that “free” should not be used where, for example:
1) a “free” product is available when another product is purchased at a higher price than usual; and
2) a “free” product is offered as part of a package of products where that product is an intrinsic or normal part of that package and the package cannot be split up.