February 25, 2005

NEWS / ADVERTISING: Ban on adverts that urge youngsters to pester their parents (EUROPE)

February 25, 2005

Ban on adverts that urge youngsters to pester their parents - By Anthony Browne, Brussels Correspondent

PESTER POWER advertisements that are aimed at children and urge them to put pressure on their parents will be banned under sweeping European Union legislation passed yesterday. The Unfair Commercial Practices Directive, adopted by the European Parliament in Strasbourg and supported by the British Government, bans 28 different commercial practices including telephone prize-draw scams, pyramid marketing schemes, and ?bait advertising?, such as airlines advertising discount prices that apply only to a few seats on a certain route.

The legislation places for the first time a ?general duty? on all companies in Europe not to trade unfairly, and will replace all existing national consumer protection laws in Britain and the rest of the EU when it comes into force in 2007. According to the latest Office of Fair Trading figures, Britons are poorer by up to £1 billion a year as a result of dubious marketing tactics.

The directive places strict controls on adverts aimed at children, banning any that include ?a direct exhortation to children to buy or to persuade their parents or other adults to buy advertised products for them?. It bans companies from offering prizes if the consumer then has to incur a cost or pay money to claim them. This will ban companies from telling people to call a high-cost premium rate number to claim a prize. Some consumers have been held on premium-rate numbers for so long to claim prizes that they have incurred phone bills of up to £30 ? and then may have found that they have not won anything.
The European Commission said EU regulation was needed because fraudsters sometimes base themselves in one country while operating in another to avoid detection. Once the new rules are in place, national authorities will be able to pursue phone scams affecting their own consumers even if the operation is controlled abroad. It will be illegal for companies to use bait advertising, where they advertise a product at a certain price when unlikely to be able to supply it to most customers. This could affect discount airlines which advertise tickets for a few pounds but only make a couple of seats available at that price. ?Bait and switch? techniques are also banned. In these, companies advertise a particular product at a certain price, and then fail to sell it but offer something else instead.

The rules will also make it illegal for professional traders to pretend to be consumers. Some professional second-hand car salesmen place adverts in magazines and websites pretending to be a private individual selling their own car. Traders will be banned from claiming falsely that a product is able to cure illnesses, claiming they are signatories of codes of conduct when they are not, and holding ?closing down? sales when they are not closing down.

It will also be illegal to state falsely that a product will only be available for a certain time, which ?deprives consumers of sufficient opportunity or time to make an informed choice?.  Aggressive sales practices are also banned, such as persistant sales calls by telephone, fax or e-mail, door-to-door salespeople ignoring requests to leave, or a trader claiming their job is in jeopardy if the customer does not buy the product. Gerry Sutcliffe, the Consumer Affairs Minister, said: ?This new EU law will protect consumers across Europe from scams and dodgy traders who make false claims about their products, or treat consumers aggressively.?

SOURCE: http://www.timesonline.co.uk/article/0,,13509-1500043,00.html


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