Alton Towers owner Merlin Entertainments has been told to pull its “kids go free” social media ad campaign.
The Twitter ad, seen on March 12, read: "Don’t miss our cracking Easter short break offer - where Kids Go FREE! Stay overnight with breakfast included, enjoy early access to selected rides and get your 2nd Day FREE in the Theme Park - all from just £55pp. Book before 15th April 2018.”
It was challenged by a consumer, who said they understood the cheapest hotel stay was £80pp. They called on Alton Towers to substantiate the “from just £55pp” claim and said the “kids go free” claim was misleading because they understood it to be cheaper to travel without children.
The Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) ruled on Wednesday (October 24) the ad was misleading and upheld the complaint in respect of both the pricing and free child place claim.
Merlin admitted the tweet could have stated more clearly the “free” element of the package related to them park entry only.
It also provided evidence, it said, showed a “reasonable proportion” of stays were available at the £55 lead-in price across the resort and off-site hotels during the stated travel period (March 23 to April 15, May 25 to June 2, and July 20 to September 2).
However, it conceded availability differed per day due to sales through separate channels prior to the promotion.
The ASA said while consumers would understand the £55pp price offer was limited, they would also expect a reasonable chance of booking at the stated price.
The watchdog found, over the Easter period, 6% of rooms were available at the lead-in price before Good Friday (March 30) before dropping to 2% on Easter Monday (April 2). The number did not rise above 8% until April 7.
“We considered this period of eight days to include the most focal week of the Easter break period and we had not seen sufficient evidence to demonstrate that a significant proportion of stays were available to book for £55 in a relatively even spread across the travel period,” said the ASA.
On the “kids go free” claim, the ASA said consumers would take it to mean there was no charge connected to the entirety of a child’s stay when booked alongside an adult.
“We noted that further text stated ‘get your 2nd day FREE in the Theme Park’, and we understood that the ‘Kids Go FREE’ claim was intended to refer to that second day in the theme park,” said the ASA.
“However, we considered it could have been seen as additional part of the offer, and was not sufficient to override the impression created by the “Kids Go Free” claim.”
Merlin has been ordered to ensure the ad does not appear again in its current form, to ensure a significant proportion of short breaks were available evenly across the advertised travel period, and not to claim or imply a child’s stay is free if it is not the case.