Insights Committee of Advertising Practice (CAP) publishes new Enforcement Notice on digital advertising of “free trials” and other promotional subscription models


CAP explains that in recent years the subscription market has seen huge growth, in part accelerated by lockdown. Consumers can choose from a wide variety of subscription services, ranging from comparatively small start-ups to high-profile companies. Research from Citizens Advice has found that three in four people in the UK (73%) have at least one subscription, while one in four (26%) have signed up to a subscription service by accident, in most instances because they did not get round to cancelling a free trial.

A dataset captured by CAP’s Data Science team in late 2022 indicated that some advertisers are not complying with CAP’s 2017 guidance on “free trials” or other promotional subscription models. Accordingly, CAP has issued an Enforcement Notice to ensure companies offering subscription services understand how to promote their products and services in a compliant way.

In summary, ads for a “free trial” or other promotional subscription offer must communicate all significant conditions likely to affect a consumer’s decision to participate.

If significant conditions are not displayed with sufficient prominence, the ad is likely to break the rules. This means “T&Cs apply” is not sufficient; the significant conditions must be stated in the ad.

Ads must make clear:

  • whether a paid subscription starts automatically (after the trial) unless cancelled;
  • the extent of the financial commitment if the subscription is not cancelled (during the trial); and
  • any other significant conditions: e.g. costs to participate.

As for the placement of significant conditions, advertisers must ensure that significant conditions:

  • are immediately visible, prominent and distinct from other information (pop-ups are not sufficient);
  • immediately follow the most prominent references to the trial or offer; and
  • are clear and legible both in size and clarity of font.

From 27 April 2023, the Compliance team will take targeted enforcement action to ensure non-compliant ads for free trials or promotional subscription models are amended or removed in order to secure a level-playing-field.

CAP advises those that advertise a subscription service to review the Enforcement Notice and take immediate steps to check advertising and make any changes needed. To read CAP’s news release in full and for a link to the Enforcement Notice, click here.