Subway Loses in Sweepstakes Review Before CARU

Advertising Law

When advertising sweepstakes to children, Subway must do a better job disclosing material information, the Children’s Advertising Review Unit (CARU) recommended in a new decision.

The self-regulatory body evaluated the advertiser’s 30-second commercial, which aired during children’s programming, for its Fresh Fit for Kids meal. The ad depicted a toy premium that was part of a sweepstakes for an Amazon Fire Kids Edition tablet. The ad featured “Mr. Men” and “Little Miss” toys and explained that one of 32 different toys was included in each kids’ meal. Consumers who collected five specific toy characters were eligible to win the tablet. The ad concluded with a voice-over encouraging children to “Hurry into Subway … and get your [character] today. Otherwise, you’ll miss out.”

A video super appeared at the bottom of the page in small writing with some information, but the commercial contained no audio disclosures regarding the free means of entry, the likelihood of winning the tablet, or the requirement that participants must be 18 years of age or older to enter.

CARU expressed concern that children under 18 would believe that they could enter the promotion themselves, that the ad failed to disclose the free means of entry and odds of winning, and that the language “Hurry in … otherwise you’ll miss out” could create undue sales pressure for a child.

Subway asserted that the commercial’s “overall context” indicated that children would participate with the oversight and supervision of a parent or guardian. It referenced a visual of a little girl eating lunch at a Subway restaurant with her mother. The advertiser also pointed out that the CARU guidelines do not expressly require that an advertiser state whether a promotion requires an adult to enter on a child’s behalf.

But CARU determined that a reasonable message conveyed to children was that they could enter the sweepstakes themselves. The ad was primarily directed to children, and Subway presented no consumer perception evidence to establish that the mere appearance of an adult in the ad made it clear to kids that a grown-up was necessary to enter the contest. The lack of an audio disclosure was also problematic, the self-regulatory body said.

“CARU has consistently held that written disclosures, particularly video supers in small print and flashed at the bottom of the screen, are not understandable to children who may not be able to read and are therefore an inadequate means of conveying material facts,” the decision stated. “Thus CARU found that this video disclosure was not adequate in communicating the eligibility requirement to children.”

With regard to the free method of entry, Subway argued that it was explained in the video super and that the “Hurry in” language—which was uttered in the same tone as the rest of the ad—was intended to let the audience know that the promotion was running only for a limited time.

Again, CARU emphasized that audio disclosures were necessary to convey material facts to children and found that the “Hurry in” language constituted sales pressure as defined by the guidelines. The self-regulatory body has consistently found that similar language—such as “Order now … before it’s too late!” and “Act now to get your free gift!”—pressured children, and that a child’s reasonable takeaway was that if she did not hurry into Subway to buy a kids’ meal, she would not get the toy premium.

The commercial also insufficiently disclosed the odds of winning the tablet, CARU found, as it lacked any audible language to convey a child’s chances of winning the sweepstakes.

To read the CARU press release about the decision, click here.

Why it matters: The self-regulatory body was clear: Disclosures and disclaimers to children should be “understandable to the children in the intended audience, taking into account their limited vocabularies and level of language skills.” As repeatedly emphasized by CARU in the decision, audible disclosures—stating the free method of entry and conveying a child’s chances of winning, among other things—are required to satisfy the guidelines.