MEDIA: Papers to face OFT inquiry

In the heat of the newspaper promotions war, bold claims on the front pages which help lure readers from rival titles have gone a step too far, with the referral of The Times and Mirror Group to the Office of Fair Trading.

In the heat of the newspaper promotions war, bold claims on the front

pages which help lure readers from rival titles have gone a step too

far, with the referral of The Times and Mirror Group to the Office of

Fair Trading.



In June, The Times and the Daily Mirror were warned by the Advertising

Standards Authority about misleading promotions. They were the most

persistent offenders. Mirror Group had 11 complaints upheld by the ASA

in the 12 months to July, and The Times newspapers had ten. Further

complaints about promotions will be referred to the OFT.



According to Caroline Crawford, communications director at the ASA, the

most frequent complaints are caused by newspapers not printing the

promotion’s conditions on the front cover.



In March this year, the Sunday Mirror front-page flash claimed: ‘Fly to

Amsterdam for 29p’. Complainants said neither the flash nor the ad

inside clearly stated that there were only 300 seats available. The ASA

says the Sunday Mirror, with 2.4 million readers, should have estimated

that the likely response to the ad could not be met.



At the beginning of the year the ASA, together with the newspaper

groups, drew up a guidance note. But Crawford is unimpressed: ‘We

haven’t seen any improvement. We have given all newspapers quite a lot

of leeway.’



With so many promotions being run, newspapers may find they are

susceptible to misunderstanding and human error. However, Chris Maybury,

general manager of Times newspapers, dismisses such excuses. ‘We do not

accept that because we are busy we can make an error.’



While newspapers are unique in their role as media owners policing ads

in their own newspapers, Crawford says: ‘They don’t seem to apply the

same approach to their own promotions.’



Mirror Group’s formal response to the OFT enquiry is: ‘We have been in

dialogue with the OFT and the ASA. We have put new systems in place and

are working to the spirit of the code.’



It is a dangerous game to play if readers become disenchanted.

Promotions are run with the intent of gaining readers’ loyalty and few

consumers are willing to be misled more than once.



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Complaints to ASA over newspaper promotions

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          Complaints made                         Upheld

1994            392                                 25

1995            517                                 26

1996*           224                                 14

Source: ASA     *Up to June this year

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