EU ‘free’ directive definition splits ad bodies

The Incorporated Society for British Advertisers (ISBA) and the Institute of Sales Promotions (ISP) have clashed over whether a new European Union directive will allow advertisers to use the word “free”.

The Directive, which will be introduced in the UK on May 6, lays down rules for determining whether a commercial practice is unfair. Its aim is to define a limited range of “sharp practices”, which are prohibited EU-wide, such as pester power.

According to the ISP, the EU Unfair Commercial Practices Directive, laid before Parliament this week, will outlaw “buy one get one free” (bogof) promotions, which will instead have to be described as “two for the price of one.”

The ISBA, along with the Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) and the Government, disagrees with that interpretation. It says that it does not believe that the Directive will restrict the use of “bogofs” or the use of the word “free” in advertising and marketing.

Iain Twinn, ISBA director of public affairs says: “We think that the ISP’s interpretation is wrong, because what the Directive will do is make sure that if the free item with the full-price product is only a sample size then it cannot be promoted as free, but if the two items are of same size or value then bogofs will be allowed.”

However, an ISP note earlier this week said: “The word ‘free’ will only be possible in relation to free samples and any free gifts which do not require more than the unavoidable cost of a postage stamp or telephone call, such as an absolutely free mail-in.”

But Twinn says: “The restrictions on bogofs could only happen if the European Court of Justice were to insist that the UK gets rid of the mechanics.”

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