The recent Green Man photography competition case highlights the need to establish clear terms and conditions for consumers to avoid ambiguity.
The renowned department store, Harrods, has established itself as a world-leading retailer on the back of its reputation for luxury, excellence and distinction, and yet recently committed a trivial blunder regarding the terms and conditions of an online competition. The competition, which challenged people to ‘Put the Harrods Green Man on the Map’ by taking a picture of a miniature Green Man and uploading it to Instagram, caused a stir when certain competitors felt the winners had been unfairly selected.
The Green Man competition was created with its own set of terms and conditions; importantly, this set of terms did not specify a maximum number of entries per competitor – indeed, Harrods later admitted this was intentional. Nevertheless, Harrods had previously established ‘General Competition Terms and Conditions’, and these terms, it was made clear, applied to all competitions unless stated otherwise. The Green Man competition did not remove itself from the general terms and conditions – in fact, it acknowledged that it followed them – and therefore found itself accountable to these terms, one of which stated that there should be ‘only one entry per person’. Evidently, then, there was a disparity between the specific Green Man terms which appeared to encourage, or certainly did not discourage, multiple entries, and the general terms and conditions which explicitly disallowed them. Moreover, in the description of the Green Man contest, competitors were invited to take a photo of the pocket-sized man while on their ‘travels’. However, what constituted the ‘setting’ of a photo was never properly clarified and therefore another area of contention arose.
Certain disgruntled competitors, after Harrods released the initial list of winners, contacted the retail store having noticed the above incongruences. One winner, for example, had submitted more than one entry and another had taken a photo of the Green Man against a digital background. According to the specific Green Man terms and conditions neither of these competitors had broken the rules. However, the complainants, clearly more perceptive than Harrods itself, argued that because of the competition’s compliance with the general Ts & Cs the prizes had not been ‘administered fairly’.
The ASA (the Advertising Standards Authority) upheld this view. They pointed out that despite the specific Green Man terms it should have been clear that only one entry per person was permitted. Indeed, it was wrong of the competitor to enter multiple photos, but it was even worse that this escaped Harrods’ attention and they continued to award the prize. Furthermore, the ASA took issue with the ambiguity behind the term ‘setting’. In this case, the competitor was not to blame – their interpretation of ‘setting’, given its loose definition, was acceptable and somewhat understandable – however, the ASA found that the lack of information provided by Harrods was improper and misleading, and therefore agreed with the complainants’ view that the prize was administered unfairly. It appears that Harrods certainly acknowledged their mistake, soon announcing a second round of winners. Ultimately, though, the ‘punishment’ imposed upon Harrods amounted to no more than a slap on the wrist; the ASA reminded the store of the need to establish ‘clear terms and conditions’ and to ensure such a situation did not arise again.
Clearly, the Harrods debacle elucidates the importance of well-defined and transparent terms and conditions. The fact is, although the complainants were right to feel aggrieved by the first batch of winners, it is evident that the terms and conditions were laid out in such a way that many people were innocently misled. So, while cases like this remind everybody of the need to approach terms and conditions with a perspicacious eye, the onus is really on companies to ensure they are structured so as not to deceive, misinform or confuse.
If you wish to discuss any of the issues raised in this article or would like assistance with updating your terms of business please contact Rebecca Anforth, head of Intellectual Property, on 01872 226999 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
The information provided in this article is for general information purposes only and does not constitute legal or other professional advice and cannot be relied upon as such. Any law quoted in this article is correct as at 22 September 2015. Appropriate legal advice should be sought for specific circumstances before any action is taken. Copyright © Murrell Associates Limited, September 2015.