ASA Adjudication on VIP (UK) Ltd
VIP (UK) Ltd t/a
Avda. Higuerón 48. -2
29640 Fuengirola (Málaga)
10 October 2012
Internet (sales promotion)
Number of complaints:
The social media website www.vipocean.co.uk advertised an introductory membership. The ad stated "Special offer: iPod shuffle + 7 days' access to VIPocean* for £1 only!". Text further down the page stated "*VIPocean's memberships do not require any minimum commitment period. You can cancel your membership anytime by contacting email@example.com . After 7 days, you will be debited monthly £34.95". The website's terms and conditions stated "In order to receive the welcome gift, the member will have to send a proof of residence with a valid address (water, electricity, telephone or internet bill less than 3 months old) either by email ... or by fax ... Copies of a passport or ID card will not be accepted. Please note that you are only entitled to receive your welcome gift if your subscription is still active by the time of the shipment. By cancelling your subscription, you are renouncing to [sic] your right to receive your welcome gift".
The complainant, who understood that it took VIP (UK) Ltd several weeks to ship the welcome gift, challenged whether the ad was misleading because it was impossible to obtain the iPod shuffle during the trial period.
CAP Code (Edition 12)
VIP (UK) Ltd, trading as VIPocean (VIPocean), responded that they had been running 30-day trial membership offers with accompanying welcome gifts for a long time, and that they had recently launched a similar seven-day trial offer, which also included a welcome gift. They said their website made clear that the offer included both a trial membership period and a welcome gift and that membership could be cancelled at any time. They believed they provided an additional layer of assurance to customers by offering them a 30-day money-back guarantee should they not be satisfied, although they acknowledged that that would not apply in instances where the customer had received a welcome gift.
VIPocean disputed the claim that it was impossible to obtain the welcome gift within the trial period and stated that they had in fact sent thousands of gifts since launching their introductory offer campaigns. They said their shipping department did its best to deal with requests for welcome gifts as soon as they were received and on average these were processed within three working days, although they had at one point been overwhelmed by the number of requests and the processing times had become longer. They pointed out that they had never made claims as to the maximum length of time it would take for them to send out the welcome gifts.
Upon investigation, however, VIPocean were unable to find records of any customers who had signed up to the seven-day membership offer in the ad and successfully applied for the iPod Shuffle within the trial period. They acknowledged that a seven-day trial period might not be a reasonable timeframe for a customer to submit their proof of address and for them to process the order and stated that as a result they would not be repeating this offer, which had only ever been part of a small-scale test, in the future.
The ASA noted that the ad offered a seven-day trial membership to VIPocean and an iPod Shuffle for £1, and that the terms and conditions stated that customers would only be eligible to receive their welcome gift if their subscription was still active at the time that it was shipped.
We understood that in order to apply for their gift (in this case the iPod Shuffle), customers would have to send by e-mail or fax a copy of a recent household bill showing their address, at which point VIPocean would deal with the request. We acknowledged VIPocean's claim that processing requests for welcome gifts took on average three working days, and considered that that left little time for customers to submit the required information to ensure their gift would be shipped within the seven-day trial period. We understood further that processing times for gift requests had recently been longer than three days. We noted that VIPocean had not been able to find any records relating to customers who had signed up to the seven-day membership offer and been able to claim their welcome gift during that period, which indicated to us that it would be difficult to do so. Because we considered it was unlikely that customers signing up for the service advertised would be able to have the iPod Shuffle shipped to them as part of the trial period and without having to continue their subscription, and because we had received no evidence to demonstrate otherwise, we concluded that the ad was misleading.
The ad breached CAP Code (Edition 12) rules 3.1 and 3.3 (Misleading advertising).
The ad must not appear again in its current form. We told VIPocean not to advertise trial membership periods with welcome gifts unless they could show that customers signing up to the offers would be able to receive the gifts as part of the trial.