Insights Committee of Advertising Practice publishes advice note on use of countdown clocks on websites

As CAP explains, countdown clocks are an element of a website’s Online Choice Architecture, generally paired with promotions, often used to illustrate a promotional period whilst adding a sense of urgency to a potential transactional decision. Countdown clocks can be used responsibly, CAP says, but there are a few things to remember:

  • make sure the promotions are genuine: advertisers must ensure that any promotions tied to a countdown clock are themselves genuine; any accompanying promotional price or discount must be a genuine saving against the price at which an item is usually sold and advertisers should retain evidence to demonstrate that a savings claim is genuine;
  • it ends when the clock strikes zero: incorporating a countdown clock to indicate when a promotional period ends brings certain consumer expectations with it, as it indicates there is a certain amount of time left to make a transactional decision based on the current offer; people who make purchases during the countdown do so in good faith that it is a promotional, time-limited deal; advertisers must not, therefore, keep the discount running following the promotional period and keep the prices the same or make them lower; rule 8.17.4.e of the CAP Code states that closing dates for promotions should not be changed outside of very specific circumstances; countdown clocks should not therefore start back up once they have finished;
  • the principal applies to other deadlines: a countdown is not exclusive to promotions and is also used to set a deadline for the product delivery time; advertisers who state that the product will arrive within a certain timeframe must ensure it arrives within that period; advertisers should also hold sufficient evidence to substantiate that they consistently meet their target delivery times; and
  • undue pressure in sensitive categories: CAP’s guidance on “Gambling Advertising- responsibility and problem gambling” touches on undue pressure; the sense of urgency created by using countdown clocks is at odds with what is expected in responsible gambling ads; marketing communications should not unduly pressure the audience to gamble, especially when gambling opportunities offered are subject to a significant time limitation.

To read CAP’s advice note in full, click here.