Marmite became headline news this week when Tesco and the manufacturer Unilever argued over the wholesale price
The Daily Mail and rival supermarket Iceland decided to cash in on the huge national publicity surrounding the dispute.
The Daily Mail was offering a free large jar of Marmite worth £4.50 to readers who took this voucher into their local branch of Iceland.
I dislike the Daily Mail, but I love Marmite. I have no attachment to Iceland, but I enjoyed Malcolm Walker's (the man who founded Iceland) autobiography.
I bought the Daily Mail (actually got the cost refunded by using a MyWaitrose card after spending £5 in store) specifically to get the voucher and free large 500g jar of Marmite (worth £4.50).
Imagine my surprise when I visited Iceland shortly afterwards to discover they did sell Marmite 'but it's finished'. When I checked on twitter I wasn't alone. It seems almost no one had found any 'free' jars of 500g Marmite.
On the website www.hotukdeals.co.uk other deal hunters noted they hadn't found any Marmite either.
Some comments suggested stock had been limited to either 6 or 24 jars per store. Other comments suggested that the stores had removed Marmite from the shelves completely for the day of the offer.
Now obviously I don't know how many 500g jars of Marmite were on offer at Iceland.
However the Advertising Standards Authority (www.asa.org.uk) has very strict rules on promotions like this. It's Advertiser's Code states that advertisers must calculate the likely demand for a promotion. If the promotion is to have very large prominence the availability must meet the expectation of consumers.
The offer of a free 500g jar of Marmite (worth £4.50) was on the front page of the Daily Mail, directly under the masthead.
Marmite was national news on the BBC and every other newspaper. It was even mentioned on Question Time!
If there were just 6 or 24 jars of 'free' Marmite available in each store then this information should have been printed - so potential purchasers of the Daily Mail could accurately calculate their chances of success.
I would not have purchased the Daily Mail if I knew there were only 6 or 24 jars per Iceland store.
So I decided to complain to the Advertising Standard's Authority. Now in my experience this is a complete waste of time. The ASA doesn't punish the advertiser in any way whatsoever when it upholds consumer complaints. The ASA is funded by the advertising industry, and in my experience it prefers to rule in favour of errant advertisers.
That is a big claim, but I base it on my experience. A couple of years ago I made the mistake of complaining to the ASA about a Morrison's Supermarket buy 3 bottles of wine for £10 promotion in the national press and online one May Bank Holiday weekend.
This wasn't just any 3 for £10 promo, some of the wines were premium bottles - including Campo Viejo Rioja and Wolfblass which normally retail at around £7 a bottle. Morrisons had very little stock, but when the shelves were empty by Thursday the press ads continued all weekend and the website still displayed the non existent offer.
The ASA kept me informed of the progress of my complaint - which was the same 'availability' complaint as the Marmite offer. Morrisons told the ASA that when the premium wine ran out (very quickly, because they had under-estimated demand) they had included some other wines in the promotion.
I responded to the ASA that this wasn't ok. The new wines were not the premium wines in the photographs, and in any case as they were not named in the promotion shoppers would not have known they were included in the offer.
The ASA asked Morrisons about this, and why they did not amend their website to update the offer and availability.
Again Morrisons convinced the ASA they had done all they could. The ASA officer handling my complaint told me they would recommend to the ASA Council (who make the final decision) not to uphold my complaint.
I was so outraged (and I had spent a lot of time on this by now) I said I would write a letter to the ASA Council explaining how I felt Morrison's account of events was being favoured over the facts I had supplied (mainly screen shots of their website which Morrisons didn't have). I don't know what happened next, or even if my letter was actually read out by the ASA Council at their meeting, but my complaint was upheld by the ASA Council - despite the officer recommending the opposite.
I vowed then never to complain to the ASA again. It took up loads of my time and I got nothing but cross. Morrisons carried on with business as usual. I still didn't get any Campo Viejo Rioja.
However never say never. I have just filed a complaint with the ASA on the basis of 'availability' for the Daily Mail, Marmite, Iceland promotion.
Don't hold your breath of the outcome. Advertisers know they can get away with this sort of behaviour. Hardly anyone complains because they assume all these offers are bogus anyway. That's what my partner always says - you didn't believe that did you?
Here is a link to the ASA ruling over the Morrisons offer. Mine was one of the 2 complaints. So yes, no one complains.
Update 13th April 2017 - so the ASA still hasn't adjudicated on my Daily Mail complaint. I emailed the ASA to ask for an update in early March. They didn't reply. So yesterday I tweeted the ASA Chief Executive Guy Parker to ask if a 6 month delay was normal. He said he'd look into it. Shortly afterwards I get an email to say they hope to have news by May. The ASA is paid for by advertisers and guess who it favours?
Update 7th June 2017 (8 months after this promotion ran) the Advertising Standards Authority finally ruled The Daily Mail and Iceland broke the advertising rules with their Marmite stunt.
These are the rules that ensure all ads are 'legal, decent, honest and truthful'. This promotion wasn't.
You can read the full ruling here: