How to complain about a competition

Unfortunately things don’t always run smoothly in the world of competitions. Promoters make mistakes, T&Cs aren’t clear and prizes may not materialise. It’s a good idea to know the best way to complain about a competition – whether it’s to the promoter, a PR agency, or to the Advertising Standards Authority.

Contacting a promoter with your concerns is much easier than it used to be, but it’s important to remain calm and polite. Ranting about a breach of T&Cs may aggravate the promoter, and even put them off running future competitions.

This blog post will look at common causes for competition complaints, and offer ideas for messages you can send, along with links to relevant sections of the CAP Code or articles on the ASA website. If you have a problem that’s not been covered, let me know in the comments and I may be able to add it in!

Table of Contents


Prize Promotion Regulatory bodies

First of all, here’s details of the regulatory bodies we have here in the British Isles, in case you need to get in touch:

UK regulators

  • Non-broadcast prize promotions in the UK must comply with the CAP Code. Complaints about promotions can be made to the Advertising Standards Authority.
  • Register a complaint at www.asa.org.uk/make-a-complaint.html – see my blog post How to complain to the ASA for a full guide and tips.
  • The ASA may refer a complaint to Trading Standards, or to NTSELAT (for house raffle complaints).
  • Prize promotions on UK TV or radio are regulated by OFCOM – register a complaint at www.ofcom.org.uk/complaints.

ROI regulators


Tips for sending complaints

Compers tell me that the main reason they don’t complain during a prize promotion is because they fear it will jeopardise their chance of winning. Here’s a couple of solutions which have worked for me:

  • Ask a friend to contact the promoter on your behalf. You can even write the message and send it to your friend, to make their job easy
  • Set up a new gmail address which you can use anonymously to contact promoters

Always take screenshots, save links to social posts, and copy T&Cs for any comps you want to complain about. You may need to refer to these later on! In particular, when you win a competition – take screenshots of the competition post, winner announcement and communications. Promoters have been known to delete competition posts and winner announcements, which makes it tricky if you need to contact them months later about a missing prize.

It’s better to contact the promoter privately first rather than shouting at them on social media! Many issues can be fixed with a polite private message, letter or email. Where possible, include a link to the competition, or a relevant screenshot.

  • Email: Look for an email address in the T&Cs – this could be an internal marketing department, an external agency or a promotions handling house. If there isn’t one, there will usually be a ‘Contact Us’ tab on the promotion web page, or on the brand’s main website. Submit a contact form or send an email to the Customer Service team. The advantage of contacting Customer Services via an online form is that most brands will assign your email an enquiry reference, and they must deal with it.
  • Social Media: Complain via a private message on social media – but keep in mind if it’s a big brand, their social media manager might not know much about the competition unless it’s actually hosted on that platform. Only post a public complaint if you have no luck with your private communications.
  • Letter: Send a letter to the Customer Services Department – send it by registered post so you can check who received it. Include your email address and phone number, as you’re more likely to get a quick response.

If your complaint is more of a query (eg. when does it close?, where are the T&Cs, what’s the prize, is it open to UK residents?) then it’s fine to ask it via DM or publicly as a comment. On Instagram and Facebook, promoters will hopefully take your comment on board and edit the information in their posts accordingly (eg. adding a closing date). However, a tweet cannot be edited. Rather than send a Twitter DM, I prefer to reply to the tweet and ask for extra information, as a public promoter response will be helpful to all entrants and it gives them the opportunity to add any missed details to the same Twitter thread.

  • When writing your complaint, try to praise the promoter or competition. For example, I tend to start my message with ‘I was so excited to see your great new promotion advertised, but…’ or ‘I really enjoyed creating my entry for your competition, but….’
  • Be polite and respectful – put yourself in the shoes of the promoter or agency. They’re hosting a promotion to give away wonderful prizes to us – and criticism and complaints could result in them deciding not to bother in future.
  • Where possible, offer a suggested solution to the problem.

Personally, I don’t like to mention the CAP Code or ASA in my initial message, but if I meet resistance from a promoter, that’s when I quote and/or link to it and become more formal in my communications. A handy short link to the Promotions section of the CAP Code is http://bit.ly/CAPcode8

A really helpful part of the CAP Code for compers (and promoters) to remember is this:

Promoters must conduct their promotions equitably, promptly and efficiently and be seen to deal fairly and honourably with participants and potential participants. Promoters must avoid causing unnecessary disappointment.

CAP Code section 8.2

The final sentence – ‘Promoters must avoid causing unnecessary disappointment‘ can be quoted in many situations! A prize promotion should be fun and fair. The entry process should be easy to understand, winners should receive their prizes within a month, and be satisfied that the prize is as advertised. There should be no unnecessary disappointment!

Below is a new infographic created by the ASA to help brands run social media promotions correctly. They also have a handy resource page, and you can send this link to promoters who need a helping hand.

Issues you can complain about

I’ve listed the most common causes of complaint about UK prize promotions below. For each topic, there are suggestions for messages you can send to promoters,and links to useful CAP Code or ASA information you can use as a reference in your communications.

1. Terms & conditions are unclear or missing

The ASA state that promotional marketing should clearly include all significant T&C’s upfront in initial marketing material. Examples include a poster, product packaging, an Instagram post or a tweet.

Significant terms and conditions which must be stated up front include:

  • how to participate, including any costs or factors likely to influence consumers’ understanding of the promotion;
  • any free entry route explanation;
  • start date (if applicable);
  • closing date;
  • any proof of purchase requirements;
  • the nature and number of any prizes or gifts, or a reasonable estimate if the number cannot be determined;
  • the existence of any restrictions or limitations, such as age, date or geographical restrictions (eg. the prize is for collection only);
  • any limitations of availability; and
  • Unless obvious, the promoter’s name and address

Full terms and conditions (which must be signposted or linked in the original ad) include:

  • any restriction on the number of entries
  • whether there is a cash alternative
  • when prize winners will receive their prizes (if more than 30 days after the closing date)
  • how and when winners and will be notified
  • In competitions, the criteria and mechanism for judging entries
  • If relevant, any copyright information regarding entries
  • if applicable, how entries will be returned
  • Any intention to use winners in publicity.

If you spot a new promotion, and terms and conditions are missing some of this vital information – or if there are no T&Cs at all! – ask the promoter about it right away. Promoters would prefer to answer a query at the launch of a competition, rather than deal with a complaint at the end. They will also appreciate that you took the time to read the details and get in touch. A common issue is conflicting information between the social media posts and the linked terms and conditions – and most brands will be grateful that this is pointed out before it becomes a problem later on!

Helpful CAP/ASA quotes and links

  • “Participants must be able to retain conditions or easily access them throughout the promotion.” – CAP Code 8.28
  • “Marketing communications that include a promotion and are significantly limited by time or space must include as much information about significant conditions as practicable and must direct consumers clearly to an easily accessible alternative source where all the significant conditions of the promotion are prominently stated. Participants should be able to retain those conditions or easily access them throughout the promotion.” – CAP Code 8.18
  • Significant conditions include: “How to participate, including significant conditions and costs, and other major factors reasonably likely to influence consumers’ decision or understanding about the promotion” – CAP Code 8.17.1

Example messages to send during the promotion

  • “I just spotted your great new competition on my feed! I noticed you haven’t mentioned a closing date, or whether the winning entries will be judged or chosen at random. It would be really helpful if you could confirm those details – and perhaps edit the information into your Instagram post? Thank you!”
  • “What a great prize – does it need to be collected by the winner, or are you happy to post it?”
  • “What a super giveaway! Could you also tweet a link to the full terms & conditions please?”
  • “Fab competition. Can you confirm, are winners chosen at random or are they judged (and if so, what is the criteria?) – thanks!”
  • “I notice you haven’t linked any T&Cs at all in your competition posts. Please note that the CAP Code states that essential T&Cs must be included, and you’re at risk of an ASA ruling against you if they’re not accessible to entrants. There’s some helpful information at https://www.asa.org.uk/advice-online/promotional-marketing-terms-and-conditions-tcs.html
  • “I’ve already bought a few products to enter your great new prize promotion, can you confirm if I need to make a new purchase every week?
  • “I spotted your new instant win promotion advertised on a wine neck collar, but I can’t see any information on the format – how exactly are winners chosen? Is it winning moments, or by an algorithm where all prizes won’t be won? This is important information that I need in order to decide whether or not to spend £8.50 on the wine to take part!”

Example messages to send after the promotion

  • “There was nothing mentioned in your social posts about the prize being collection only. This is a significant part of T&Cs and as it wasn’t included, I think it’s only fair that you arrange for the prize to be delivered to me I’m happy to arrange and pay for a courier to collect”
  • “Unfortunately, as you’re refusing to honour my prize, I will be registering a formal complaint to the ASA. As you made no reference to the prize being collection only up front, your post was a breach of the CAP Code and has caused unnecessary disappointment”.

2. The closing date has been changed

Promoters often extend a closing date – or shorten it. They might claim it’s because they’ve had too many or too few entries, but neither of these is an acceptable reason to change the date. Acceptable reasons for altering a date include technical issues with a competition website, or a delay getting promotional packs into the supermarkets. Some promoters state when winners will be announced – but this is not the same as when the competition closes to entries.

Relevant CAP/ASA links

  • “Closing dates must not be changed unless unavoidable circumstances beyond the control of the promoter make it necessary and either not to change the date would be unfair to those who sought to participate within the original terms, or those who sought to participate within the original terms will not be disadvantaged by the change.’ – CAP Code 8.17.4e
  • “Significant conditions, including a closing date, should be presented in a clear and prominent way in the ad “ASA Advice on closing dates

Example messages to send during the promotion

  • “I notice that you have changed the closing date of the promotion – are you aware this isn’t allowed? It puts existing entrants at a disadvantage. Please consider reverting to the original date, or you could be at risk of an ASA investigation.”
  • “The post advertising your new competition states when winners will be announced, but not the closing date. It’s essential information that needs including.”


3. Seeing the winning notification too late to claim the prize

Promoters must not ask a winner to respond by a specified time or date if they need not – exceptions are for time-critical prizes such as event tickets. If the promoter contacted you and didn’t give a deadline for you to respond, and nothing was mentioned in the T&Cs about responding in a certain time, then they should still honour the prize – even if it’s years later!

Helpful links and quotes

  • “Promoters must not claim that consumers must respond by a specified date or within a specified time if they need not.” – CAP Code 8.28
  • “If there are time limits on claiming prizes these should be made clear in the terms and conditions to avoid unnecessary disappointment.“ ASA Advice on Prize Winners

Example messages to send after the promotion

  • “I’m sorry for the late reply, but I’ve only just found your message in my junk folder. As you didn’t specify a time to respond by, I hope I’m still eligible for the prize!”
  • “I’m so disappointed that you’re refusing to honour my prize. The ASA website states that promoters should “make adequate attempts to contact winners and alert them to the fact they have won.“ But I was only sent one Facebook message which I didn’t see, as it went into my spam folder. ”

4. A valid winner hasn’t been chosen fairly from all entries

This is probably the most common complaint of all! It could be a live draw conducted on Instagram, with ten names in a hat even though there were a thousand entries. Or perhaps a travel blogger was conveniently the winner of a holiday to Brazil! Remember, a prize draw winner is chosen at random and a competition winner is chosen by judges according to set criteria.

Helpful links and quotes

  • “Promoters of prize draws must ensure that prizes are awarded in accordance with the laws of chance and, unless winners are selected by a computer process that produces verifiably random results, by an independent person, or under the supervision of an independent person.” – CAP Code 8.24
  • “Competition winners must be chosen according to a set criteria (CAP Code 8.28.6), and the panel should include at least one independent judge” (CAP Code 8.26)
  • “Where entry into a prize draw is based on participants carrying out multiple actions, such as liking or commenting on a post, tagging a friend to a post, following particular social media accounts or sharing a post, promoters must make sure they can accurately track all entrants and include all participants who meet the entry criteria when selecting the winner” – ASA Advice on Social Media Prize Draws
  • SuperLucky blog post: 10 free ways to choose a random winner
  • SuperLucky blog post: Ten tips for running Instagram giveaways

Example messages to send during the promotion

  • “I see you’re asking for Instagram saves and story shares as entries for your prize draw. Can I ask how you intend to keep track of these bonus entries – particularly as Saves aren’t visible to anyone except the person who saved the post? It would be fairer to only ask for entry methods you can track.”
  • “You’re offering a lot of bonus entries for your giveaway which aren’t possible to keep track of, meaning you can’t choose a winner fairly and your prize draw isn’t compliant with the CAP Code. You might find the ASA guide to social media promotions helpful, particularly the section about tracking and including all valid entries in the draw.”

Example messages to send after the promotion

  • “The winner you chose for your recent photo competition didn’t adhere to the competition rules, which stated video entries should be a maximum of 30 seconds long. It would be great if you could also choose a second winner who actually followed the T&Cs.”

5. Winners haven’t been contacted by the stated date

It is not a requirement for a promoter to publicly announce who won a competition, although it’s good practice for them to do this. Read more in my post Do promoters have to publish winners’ names?

Because there’s no requirement to announce a winner, sometimes it’s hard for us to know if a winner has even been chosen! T&Cs should include a date by which winners will be contacted, and also state how winners will be informed. One of the main hold ups is that a decent promoter or agency will give a winner 28 days to respond to the winning notification. If there’s no response, they will choose a replacement winner, and the 28 day process begins again. If they want to send out all prizes at the same time, this can result in a big delay to prize distribution.

If you don’t think winners have been informed by the date stated in T&Cs, or it’s been over a month since the closing date, your first step should be to ask in my Lucky Learners Facebook group if anyone has heard of a winner for that promotion. Search the group for promoter or prize name to find an existing post if possible, rather than starting a new chat thread. We also have a ‘favour’ post in Lucky Learners, where you can ask someone else to politely enquire about winners on your behalf.

Relevant CAP/ASA links

  • “Promoters must either publish or make available information that indicates that a valid award took place – ordinarily the surname and county of major prizewinners and, if applicable, their winning entries. At or before the time of entry, promoters must inform entrants of their intention to publish or make available the information and give them the opportunity to object to their information being published or made available, or to reduce the amount of information published or made available. In such circumstances, the promoter must nevertheless still provide the information and winning entry to the ASA if challenged.” – CAP Code 8.28.5

Example messages to send after the promotion

  • “I really enjoyed your recent text promotion. I read in the T&Cs that winners should have been contacted on 8th March but I’m not sure that they have. Is there a reason for the delay?”
  • “I loved creating my entry for your competition last month! As it’s already been 4 weeks since the closing date, I wondered when do you expect to contact the winners?”
  • “Could you let me know if the winner has been informed for your competition yet, and will you be announcing their name? So many prize promotions are scams these days that it really helps to see a real winner, and know that a promotion was legitimately run.”

As a last resort, contact the ASA via the complaints form, and ask if they can contact the promoter to ask for a winners list. Unfortunately this list cannot be shared, so the best you will get is an email from the ASA confirming they have seen a list of winners names! Unfortunately, the ASA don’t tend to bother dealing with most winners list requests as they’re not a priority unless it’s a high value prize or a high profile promotion.

6. The prize hasn’t arrived yet

Since the Covid-19 pandemic started, everything is taking longer and prize promotions may not be top priority for brands. Try to be patient waiting for winners to be informed, confirmation emails or prizes to arrive – especially if it’s a blogger or small business. Every tweet, message or email you send to chase a promoter gives them extra work to do! The CAP Code recommends winners should receive prizes within 30 days, so don’t chase until then. These days, several prizes unfortunately do go missing because couriers and postal staff are just leaving them in front of people’s houses. Most promoters will send a replacement prize out if yours has disappeared in transit.

If it was a competition with lots of winners you can search in Lucky Learners to see if other winners have already received their prize.

Helpful links and quotes

  • “Promoters must award the prizes as described in their marketing communications or reasonable equivalents, normally within 30 days.” – CAP Code 8.15.1

Example messages to send after the promotion

  • “I’m so delighted to have won your recent Facebook competition! I was wondering when I should expect to receive the prize, as it’s now been over a month since I won.”
  • “I’m disappointed that I’ve contacted you twice to chase up my missing competition prize but have still had no response. I’ve always been a fan of your brand, but I’m afraid I will have to file a complaint with the ASA if I don’t get a response to this email.”
  • “As the promoter, you’re responsible for the winner receiving their prize and if it’s gone missing then I’m afraid you’ll need to send it again using a tracked post or courier service.”
  • “As I’ve not received the prize I won, I’m planning to file a complaint with the ASA, who could refer it to Trading Standards. I’m not keen to do this, and I’m sure you don’t want to deal with the admin that comes with a complaint, so if you could look into getting the prize re-sent that would be great.”

You can also find more tips in my post How to chase up a prize (politely)


7. The prize was not as described in the competition marketing material

If you see details of a competition and the prize details seem vague, ask the promoter up front for further information. A public comment on the original competition advertisement is ideal, then it’s clear to see their response connected to the original post if there are any issues.

If you receive a prize that only seems to be part of what you won, be patient and wait a couple of weeks before asking – some promoters source prizes from different sponsors and they will arrive separately.

If the prize you receive is a replacement of a lower value that what was advertised, you have every right to complain.

Helpful links and quotes

  • “Promoters must award the prizes as described in their marketing communications or reasonable equivalents, normally within 30 days.” – CAP Code 8.15.1

Example questions to ask during the promotion

  • “I see you’re giving away a year’s supply of wine. Can you confirm how many bottles this would be? Thanks!”
  • “I’m excited to enter your competition to win an iPhone. Can you confirm is it new or refurbished?

Example messages to send after the promotion

  • “Thanks for the lovely books I received last week! Will the rest of the prize be arriving separately?”
  • “Although I was delighted to win a £50 voucher in your recent prize draw, I’m disappointed that it is subject to a minimum spend of £100 on your website. If it incurs a cost for me to redeem it, that’s not really a prize – it’s just a discount. Could you please change it so I can spend £50 without making any extra payment.”
  • “I recently received my prize of a bluetooth speaker from your Instagram prize draw. The prize advertised was a Bose speaker (costing £150) but I have been sent a speaker that retails at £90. Is there a reason I haven’t received the advertised prize, and would you be able to make up the difference in value with a voucher please?”
  • “Thanks for the code, but your giveaway post suggested the prize was the product pictured. The post caption should have specified if it was an online code to use, and that the winner would have to pay postage. I’d appreciate it if you either cover the postage cost, or send me the product pictured in the competition post “

8. The prize has been sent from overseas, and I have to pay tax

Be careful when entering competitions that are open to more locations than just the UK. It could be that winners will be sent the goods from abroad, and may be liable to pay customs duty or VAT, depending on the value of the item. In addition, non-UK promotions are not regulated by the ASA, so you wouldn’t be able to register a complaint about them.

Example message to send after the promotion

  • “I recently received my prize from your competition, but unfortunately I had to pay £15 tax on it. Terms & conditions didn’t mention that the prize would be posted from outside the UK, and I wouldn’t have entered if I’d realised. Would you be able to refund me this cost via PayPal please?”

9. The code on packaging isn’t legible, or it’s rejected

Sometimes the unique printed codes on packaging don’t work – they’ve been used already, or not legible. Most promoters will offer a replacement if you send a photo of your code to them.

Example message to send during the promotion

  • “I was excited to enter your new instant win promotion, but my batch code isn’t accepted. Would it be possible for you to send a replacement code? I’ve attached a photograph of the packaging”


10. The promoter has launched a voting competition, or changed a format to voting

Thankfully, voting competitions are less common these days. Most voting competitions end in drama and accusations of cheating so a lot of brands realised it wasn’t a good format to use! If you spot one and contact the promoter early on, often they will decide to change the format – although it’s best not to tell them that would be a CAP Code breach! Breaching the same rule, some promoters decide partway through that they’re going to change from a judged competition to a voting competition too!

Helpful links and quotes

  • “We try our hardest to persuade brands and agencies to avoid [voting competitions] wherever possible, because of the huge potential for cheating and bitterness. You just have to look at the ASA rulings on such competitions to see just how much bad blood they can cause!” – from “Why voting competitions are a nightmare” – by Ruth Hobbs from the Institute of Promotional Management (IPM)

Example message to send during the promotion

  • “I was excited to see your latest promotion on my feed, but then realised the winner is decided by a public vote. Would you consider reconsidering this format? A voting competition tends to cause controversy and stress for the entrants, and the best entry rarely wins. Choosing a winner at random, or using an independent judge to choose, would be much better and you’ll get a lot more entries!“
  • “I see your judged photo competition is now decided by public vote, which can be very controversial and unfair. The format shouldn’t be changed during a competition, and I’d like to withdraw my shortlisted entry unless you revert to the original judged format.”

Moving on to an ASA complaint

If you’re not happy with the promoter’s response to your complaint, then the ASA should be your next step – you can complain about a competition at www.asa.org.uk. You will need to give your details, but the ASA does not share your information with the promoter when contacting them. If they do need to share your identity (for example if you’ve not received a prize), the ASA will contact you first to check that’s ok.

Unfortunately, the ASA doesn’t have any enforcement power, so a ruling against the promoter is usually the best you can expect. However, most decent promoters do respond to ASA contact so it’s worth a try. You can read a detailed guide in my post How to complain to the ASA.

I’ve had several successes as a result of ASA complaints, with Pretty Little Thing, Hughes Direct and Get the Gloss all switching to a fairer format for their Instagram prize draws after an ASA ruling against them. And of course, my recent success – Brewdog finally compensating their original gold can winners with £15,000 each!

Got a complaint about a competition that’s not covered here? Leave the details in the comments and I might be able to add it in!

4 Responses

  1. Steve says:

    Hi, maybe you can help me.

    A company is currently running a competition, sharing “1 of each of 20 finalists photos every day”. The person with the most likes by a set date in December wins the competition.

    This means, that the photo which is shared last, has less days visibility and less chance of winning then Day 1 photo.

    Would the ASA be interested in this?

    Thanks

    • Di says:

      Yes – it’s not fairly administered (although to be honest, voting or most likes comps are never fair!) so you can complain. To be honest though – I wouldn’t even bother entering a comp like this!

  2. jacqueline graham says:

    Is this worth taking to ASA, I won a competition through Delicious Magazine, £500 worth of Restaurant Kits, ‘restaurant quality meals delivered to your door’. The first kit was ordered all went well – when I ordered the second kit, Restaurant kits said – they are not working with restaurants any more as they have now opened up fully and this arm of the business is being run down basically. I contacted the Delicious Magazine, who advised they cannot advise why Restaurant Kits will not fulfil my prize and have offered an alternative of 2 thai kits (from another company they work with) some cook books, curry paste and Delicious Magazine. Restaurant Kits however are STILL trading – albeit under a new name Restokit. Is it worth taking this to ASA- or just accept an inferior prize ?

    • Di says:

      I’m not sure about this one Jackie – as you did receive the first part of the prize, and Delicious have offered you some other prizes, it’s Restokit you need to contact rather than Delicious. I would contact Restokit saying you won £500 of kits and even if the company name has changed, you should still get your prize. Say you’ll be happy with £250 of kits, and if they refuse then say that you’ll be reporting them to Trading Standards (the ASA won’t be much good as they’ll see Delicious as the promoter, who have already offered you other prizes). https://www.citizensadvice.org.uk/consumer/get-more-help/report-to-trading-standards/

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