How to complain to the ASA
In the world of comping, things don’t always run smoothly. There are dodgy promoters, dodgy compers and even dodgy prizes! With social media so widely used, complaining is easier and more effective than it used to be. In most cases, you can contact promoters on social media, and as a result complaints are usually dealt with swiftly for fear of a PR disaster. Most promoters will act on a polite message or tweet, and work to get things fixed.
In some cases though, promoters can be rather stubborn, and you might decide to submit a formal complaint to the ASA if you think a competition or prize draw has been unfairly run. The Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) makes sure all advertising is legal, decent, honest and truthful. All prize promotions must comply with the British Code of Advertising Practice (the CAP Code). If you believe a promotion or advertisement is in breach of the CAP Code, you can complain.
Don’t worry that complaining will affect your chance of winning with a certain promoter. When you complain, your name will NOT usually be disclosed to the promoter – unless for example, you’re chasing a missing prize in which case the promoter will need to know who you are.
The ASA doesn’t have the authority to insist a prize is awarded, or to issue fines to offenders. But in most cases the ASA involvement or published ruling will be educational for the promoter or agency involved, who will hopefully conduct their promotions in a fairer manner in future! This year I submitted three complaints to the ASA about unfairly administered Instagram promotions, and all three brands are now conducting their prize draws properly.
Most people aren’t actually aware of what you can complain to the ASA about, and you can find lots of examples in my post How to complain about a competition.
Examples of competition related complaints include:
- A winner who didn’t comply with the T&Cs
- A ‘fake’ winner in a prize promotion, or a winner who works for the promoter
- A competition to win a ‘family holiday’ which, when you check the T&Cs, can’t be taken during school holidays (see Family holiday prizes… in term time?)
- A scam Facebook page giving away thousands of iPads
- A prize that hasn’t showed up after 28 days (see How to chase a missing prize)
- A voting competition where the winner cheated by purchasing or exchanging fake votes online
- A Facebook competition stating the ‘most creative’ entry will win, but the promoter then puts it to a public vote
These are just a few examples of complaints. There are many reasons for someone to complain to the ASA – and we don’t do it enough. Every dodgy comp or promoter we complain about is a reason for the ASA and CAP to take a long hard look at how badly a lot of competitions and prize draws are conducted in the UK – especially on social media.
How to complain to the ASA
First of all, collect everything you can to help the ASA with their investigation – you can upload file attachments to the complaint form. The earlier you make a complaint, the more likely it is that the ASA can act while the prize promotion is still live – be sure to submit your complaint within three months of the advertising appearing.
- Printed materials – take a photo or scan the entry form, magazine advert, etc.
- Web addresses/URLs for the promotion or T&Cs – click in your browser address bar to select the web address and copy it. To find the link to a tweet or Facebook post click the ‘timestamp’ under the post (eg. 4 hrs or Oct 24) to open in a new window, then copy the link from your browser bar.
- Screenshots – take screenshots of promotional material, social posts and T&Cs in case the promoter changes the information on their website or social media pages.
- Text – copy and paste the original details/T&Cs of the promotion into a text file and save it.
It’s a good idea to type up your complaint details in a Notes app, Google Doc or Word doc first – then copy and paste into the ASA form.
Then, go to the Make a Complaint page at www.asa.org.uk and click Continue to submit your complaint.
- Select Are you complaining as a member of the public?
- Choose the type of promotion/advertisement you’re complaining about. For compers, example categories could be Online > On social media or On Packaging > An on-pack promotion
- Say where and when you saw the promotion, and the brand or product – if it’s online, add a link to the advert (you can leave additional links in the main complain description)
- Add a detailed description of your complaint, referring to the CAP Code if you know which rules it breached
- Upload photos or screenshots to your form
- Add your contact details
You can click on any step to go back and edit before clicking Submit.
What happens next
When the ASA receives your submission, you will get an automatic email with a case reference. They will then decide whether to act on your complaint, and let you know. The ASA may be able to resolve the complaint quickly by contacting the promoter, rather than conducting a formal investigation – for example, they could chase up an undelivered prize. Formal investigations take longer. The advertiser will be contacted and asked to provide evidence, the ASA Council will decide whether or not the CAP Code has been breached, and a ruling of ‘Upheld’ (the ASA agrees with your complaint) or ‘Not Upheld’ (the ASA disagrees) will be published on the ASA website. If the complaint is ‘Not Upheld’ no further action is taken.
If you’re not happy with the ASA ruling, there is an Independent Review Procedure that allows complainants and advertisers to request a review within 21 days of the ASA decision.
Rulings are published on the ASA website every week and in some cases the national press have picked up on stories of promotions gone bad. If the rules have been breached, the advertisement must be changed or withdrawn. This rarely occurs with prize promotions as by the time an investigation is conducted, the promotion is usually over. Persistent offenders may be referred to Trading Standards or Ofcom for further action.
If you do have a problem with a prize promotion, do your best to sort it out directly via email or social media. A polite Facebook post or message can sometimes be enough for a promoter to realise they’ve made a mistake and fix it – and hopefully they won’t make that mistake again!
Most promoters and agencies don’t want the bad publicity of an ASA ruling against them, but if you’ve done all you can with no luck then don’t be afraid to register a formal complaint with the ASA – and let me know how you get on.