When is ‘free’ not actually free? When it’s included in the package price, or so says the Advertising Standards Agency – it has rapped John Lewis for advertising a computer as having a ‘free two-year guarantee’.
After a complaint from Dixons, the Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) has banned an ad from John Lewis for promoting Apple computers with a ‘free two-year guarantee’. Why? Because the ASA believes that the guarantee was always part of the computer’s price and so could in no way be described as ‘free’:
‘We told John Lewis not to refer to guarantees as “free” unless they could show that the products had been on sale at the same price without the guarantee, or with a significantly shorter guarantee.’
That seems pretty fair to me. If you can’t prove that a product would be the same price without the guarantee, how can you describe it as free?
Free isn’t always free
The question is whether such analysis of the word ‘free’ can be taken even further. Is there room for companies to describe something as ‘free’ if money is leaving your wallet? In short, if you’ve spent dosh on it, can it be free?
In response to the ASA, John Lewis looked at the issue from another angle. It argued that since the price of the Apple computer wasn’t increased by including the guarantee, it could describe this extra as free.
John Lewis then cited uses of the word free for other additional services, such as ‘free delivery’ and ‘free recycling’. It’s a good point. We understand what these uses of ‘free’ mean – are they misleading us as well? Not really, as when it comes to both of these, the products will be the same price if you decided not to take up the free delivery or recycling.
But, what about mobile phone networks describing texts and calls as ‘free’ when they’re included in your £10 a month top-up? Surely that’s what the £10 is buying? Have you seen any other examples of companies claiming something is free, when really it isn’t?