The direct mailing read “Free gas for a year. Free gas for a year (yes, you read this right the first time). Buy a new boiler now and enjoy up to £800 free gas… offer must end 24th Nov.”
The complainant to the Advertising Standards Authority said that his redemption cheque represented only 73% of his gas costs for the year. He claimed that the mailing was misleading for failing to make clear that the saving would not be based on his actual gas expenditure but on the cost to a direct debit customer based on August 2007 prices.
The utilities supplier defended the mailing and said it made clear how the customer gas payment would be calculated. A footnote stated that the free gas would be “calculated on our domestic monthly direct debt gas price as at August 2007 including VAT at 5%.”
British Gas did raise its prices sharply in January 2008 and again in July 2008.
However, the ASA said that the headline “Free gas for a year..” and body copy text were likely to be interpreted as British Gas promising to refund what had been paid for the annual gas bill “taking into account increases and decreases in gas prices over the year.”
It said that the footnote should have been more prominent and ruled the campaign misleading.