A meeting with CAP

Recently I was invited to attend a meeting with the Sales Promotion and Direct Response Panel at the Committee of Advertising Practice (CAP). CAP write the ‘rule books’ for advertising in the UK – The CAP Code (UK Code of Non-broadcast Advertising, Sales Promotion and Direct Marketing) is the one that applies to prize draws and competitions.

According to CAP, UK prize promotions should be ‘legal, decent, honest and truthful’. If you don’t think this is the case with a competition or prize draw, you can file a complaint with the ASA (Advertising Standards Authority).

As well as the Code itself, CAP publish guidance online to help promoters understand the Code. Recently there has been a huge increase in the number of UK prize promotions hosted on social channels like Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and Pinterest. Unfortunately many of these promotions are not compliant. The Panel are currently developing new guidance for their Advice Online section to help promoters comply with the Code, and for the first time they invited an ‘outsider’ (me!) to join them at a meeting to talk about problems with social media competitions and prize draws.

RT to win promotions

At Wednesday’s meeting I presented my findings on Twitter Retweet to Win promotions to the Panel – explaining that there’s no way to tell if every valid entry has been included, and as a result RT draws aren’t fair to the entrants. With it being so difficult to choose a random winner fairly, I suggested that promoters may be unfairly choosing their winner from the last few tweeters, from replies – or in some cases picking entrants or bloggers with lots of followers. Several bloggers told me that after winning a ‘RT to win’ draw, the brand ask for a review of the prize on their blog – suggesting the promoters are deliberately choosing bloggers to win. Compers tell me they are more likely to win RT prizes if they strike up a conversation with the promoter – suggesting those promoters choose from @ replies rather than the RTs. In many cases there will be people whose entries are never even seen by the promoter, because Twitter has filtered them out of searchIf promoters were asked to produce a list of every valid RT and verify how they chose their random winner, I imagine very few could do so. 

Lack of information

In addition, I showed the Panel some examples of the competitions and prize draws we regularly see on social media.

From Twitter, I shared Emmi Caffe Latte’s tweet:


From Facebook, I shared this example from the Honey Monster (Sugar Puffs) page:


From Instagram, this prize draw on the John Lewis page:


It’s giveaway time! For your chance to WIN a start-to-finish @bareminerals bareSkin Complexion Hamper, worth £150 simply regram this image, tagging @johnlewisretail in the post! #competition #win #hamper #beauty #bareskin #barescentuals

View on Instagram


In all three of these cases there is no closing date or time, and no terms and conditions. For Emmi and Honey Monster, we don’t even know what the prize is. For the caption competition – are the winners chosen at random, or judged? There is minimal information – and it’s not fair on the entrants, who may well be entering after the winner has been chosen.

Other problems

  • On Facebook, promoters are still announcing winners on their timeline rather than contacting them directly. Even if they do message, most non-compers don’t even know to look in their ‘Other’ inbox, so in some cases the post won’t be seen, the message will remain unread and the prize never awarded – again, not fair on the entrants.
  • Entrants don’t know their entry has being included – for most Instagram, Facebook or Twitter competitions, promoters rarely Favorite or Like to acknowledge receipt.
  • If promoters leave out a closing date, or state the prize will be awarded at 10,000 followers, they will get many more entries as the promotion runs and runs. As it drags on, the Twitter search becomes less reliable and early entries won’t be picked up. In some cases the target will ever be reached, and the prize never awarded – despite the company gaining thousands of new fans in the process – a dishonest way of advertising.
  • With Facebook reach dropping fast, brands are asking their fans to share giveaways in order to guarantee exposure to thousands more users. Even though the platform’s terms of use don’t allow pages to ask for a share as a method of entry, this isn’t monitored by Facebook so it results in a lot of free spammy advertising for the brands.

Facebook and Twitter users trust brands to run a fair prize draw or competition. Entrants will Like, RT and Share promotions, even those with a minimal amount of information, but I would like to see promoters treating their fans and followers with more respect.

What promoters should be doing

I suggested to the Panel that promoters need to be reminded of their responsibilities, and this advice could be incorporated into the new guidance section.

  • Even on Twitter and Facebook, have a clear closing date and link to T&Cs (use Twitdoc or Facebook Notes) – these T&Cs should not be changed!
  • Share the winner’s name and entry (if appropriate) on the relevant social channel
  • Explain exactly how the winner is being chosen, particularly for a Twitter ‘random draw’ – if appropriate, add a disclaimer that the promoter is not responsible for the entrant’s tweet being seen if the user is missing from Twitter search results.
  • Make an effort to contact winners via a message, or tag if possible
  • Use websites or apps to aid tracking of entries – Offerpop, Iconosquare, etc.

Facebook and Twitter guidelines

The Panel agreed that Facebook and Twitter should publish and promote better guidelines on how the platforms should/should not be used for prize promotions. Twitter’s contest guidelines are currently very vague:

“When it comes to picking a winner, you’ll want to see all the contestants. If the updates include @username mention to you, you’ll be able to see all the updates in your Mentions timeline (see here for more information on replies and mentions). Just doing a public search may not show every single update, and some contestants may be filtered from search for quality.”

Asking for @ mentions simply isn’t practical for a big brand where they would get 500+ entries. And the part about contestants not appearing in search – I don’t think many promoters or Twitter users are aware of this issue, but it certainly explains why some users with 5000 tweets have never won a thing!

Twitter, Facebook and Instagram want to make money from promoted posts. Perhaps if they considered banning spammy ‘Like and Share’ Facebook draws, Twitter ‘RT to win’ draws and Instagram Regram draws, more brands would have to pay to advertise?

What next?

Appropriate guidance will be created internally at CAP, and then presented back to the Panel for their consideration. CAP will be keeping me up to date with progress. When the guidance is published, I’ll share it on the blog with you and we can be sure to tweet or message it to non-compliant promoters.

What can compers do to help?

Remind promoters that they MUST include a closing date and time, and ask them how they will be choosing a fair and random winner for their Twitter prize draws.  Send them a link to the CAP notes on promotions with prizes. If you like, add a link to the comments section here so CAP can keep track of the type of dodgy promotions we encounter on a daily basis!

CAP will be working hard to educate promoters on running fair prize draws and competitions. I’m looking forward to seeing the new guidance when it’s published!

28 Responses

  1. Stevie says:

    All your hard work is so helpful to the average comper.

  2. Stevie says:

    All your hard work is so helpful to the average comper.

  3. Stevie says:

    All your hard work is so helpful to the average comper.

  4. nicola stott says:

    Question re Twitter : I asked if Carling had chosen their winners of a recent comp and they replied yes, but they couldn’t share them with me but I could check out some of the entries #carlingperfectsummer . Couldn’t see any replies from carling to anyone so presume done by DM. Is this statement correct?? just thought it seemed a little odd

    • This is an interesting one – it was a Gleam giveaway so the company would have seen it as a valid entry from a valid Facebook account – without seeing the full database of entries we can’t establish what exactly happened but it may be that she didn’t actually cheat, she just linked the wrong Facebook account. Whether both accounts are her or if she’s using a family member’s account, who knows! I don’t think the company did anything wrong though – it’s more an issue of dishonesty on the entrant’s part.

      • sharon mead says:

        It is interesting…… shame it has ended in bad PR. Just shows how careful companies need to be.

  5. fiona haeward says:


  6. Time Traveller says:

    does CAP really have any teeth ? do promoter really care if they get contacted by CAP ? has CAP ever fined or brought a legal case agains company infringements like extending competitions? not truly picking a random winner?
    are companies scared of CAP/ i really don’t think so … there is no deterent is there? really?
    id love to see companies with huge fines for not running a comp fairly… will that ever happen ?
    or just “don’t do it again ” then the company goes away laughing?
    could you ask CAP to provide a list of companies they have sided against and the punishment that company was given please?
    I’m sure we’d all like to know that answer
    x x x

    • Diane Wood says:

      I got ASA involved in my problem (company didn’t send prize as described), ASA could only tell them to change the advert to remove the description of the prize (which they ignored). When I reported them again for failing to comply, they changed the advert and when I got Trading Standards involved, who took up my case, the company eventually stumped up the cash, for the value they claimed the prize to be, as I told them I would be taking them to court and the judge would see they ignored the ASA (amongst other things). So not sure that the company were scared of ASA, more that the judge would not look favourably upon them for ignoring them.
      From the website:
      The ASA is a non-statutory body so we do not have the power to fine or take advertisers to court.
      Who can fine or take legal action against advertisers?
      In exceptional circumstances where an advertiser has so seriously or repeatedly breached the Codes for misleading advertising or a broadcaster continues to run problem ads then the ASA can refer to its legal backstops.

      The Trading Standards is the ASA’s legal backstop for non-broadcast advertising and can initiate statutory interventions against advertisers that fail to co-operate with the self-regulatory system.

      • Diane Wood says:

        CAP is part of ASA
        (The Advertising Standards Authority)

        • CAP write the code TimeTraveller (you don’t complain to them). You complain to ASA who will hopefully investigate and publish a ruling against the company/agency – most promoters wouldn’t want that to happen, so a polite threat of making the complaint (via email or publicly on social media) is usually enough to get the problem fixed. Regarding a missing or wrong prize, as Diane says – Trading Standards would be your next step.

          As Diane says, too many people have never heard of the CAP Code – and we can help with that by gently pointing promoters in the direction of the Code and reminding them that prize promotions should be fair to all entrants. The quickest way to do this is simply to comment on a Facebook post or tweet them ‘Where are the terms & conditions for this competition please?’ – if they don’t respond then you can remind them politely that UK promotions need to comply with the CAP Code and must have clear T&Cs available to read before entry.

      • Time Traveller says:

        no real deter ant then….. shame, seems a bit of a waste of time, I’ve had so many companies extend deadlines, and not want to give out advertised prizes because of lack of entrants, sometimes i was the only entry and they said we are going to do the competition again, but you’re welcome to enter your photo again !!!
        why would i enter my photo again when they didn’t pick me as their winner out of just my entry that entered??
        lots of companies run competitions as a bit of fun, they don’t take their responsibility seriously.

        • Diane Wood says:

          I think a lot of smaller or new businesses don’t realise there are rules in the first instance, I know I didn’t when I first started entering them. Plus I guess using social media is easy for people to set up a business and running competitions relatively new, and rules & regulations need time to respond & evolve and by informing companies of them, and reporting when necessary, we can aid this process

          • Time Traveller says:

            I’ve only delt with big companies! , some think its just fun, and are not bothered by the legal? restrictions.
            they run it their way and if they want to change anything, they can! i remember a company for skin cream ran a comp of leg photos and each month it was supposed to end they extended it another month .. for a year ! when a company will not answer your emails or messages, thats frustrating too.
            would it not be a good idea to have compere come together and leave comments on their Facebook etc to show a stand of force against companies who don’t care about the rules they set out ?

          • Diane Wood says:

            Yes, being ignored is frustrating, I think our best bet is to keep reporting these companies, as unless ASA see the frequency of the breaking of rules, they won’t realise the extent of the problem and then maybe they’ll get the manpower and power to deal with it effectively as it’s one thing to have rules & regs but quite another to police and enforce them

  7. Louise says:

    This is really good, I can’t believe how quick you’ve got the ball rolling since your first post on this subject.

  8. Elaine Dale says:

    32 mins ·
    Congratulation to:

    ( Prize Sponsor: http://www.freesamples.co.uk/ )…
    won with them at end of July, had to jump through hopes to claim prize, still waiting and know of at least 2 other compers had bother with this promoter, currently waiting for response from ASA

  9. Louise Asekokhai says:

    Brilliant, would be great if they implemented your recommendations especially twitter as I used to enter loads of twitter comps but have given up as it feels like a waste of time.

  10. Janie McColl says:

    Well done Di, this is spot on. I hope sometime soon this is all implemented.

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