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I received a flyer which advertises a "free" service trial. The word "free" appears three times overall and each time it has an asterisk, but neither on the front nor on the back is there an explanation for what the asterisk means. Until now I have never encountered this situation so I wonder if this is legal.

I live in Switzerland, but it would be interesting to hear about other countries as well.

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  • The issue is not so much "are unmatched asterisk allowed" but "would the fact that an offer contains an unmatched asterisk alter its meaning/enforceability?" An example of a sentence stating where the asterisk maybe could help.
    – SJuan76
    Commented Jan 1, 2020 at 7:25
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    To point an example, if my ad says "free* doughnut with this leaflet" and you come to my stand and I give you a donut, the asterisk is not relevant. The issue would be raised if I tell you that the asterisk means some condition (for example, that the offer is only valid on tuesdays) that prevents you getting the doughnut. Then you could try to sue me and a judge would decide if the condition that I adscribe to the asterisk is valid or not (which probably will depend a lot of the local culture and established practices).
    – SJuan76
    Commented Jan 1, 2020 at 7:29
  • The flyer reads "try for free*", "6 free* samples" and "free* trial". I agree to some extent that the asterisk may be irrelevant if in the end I don't have to pay in order to get the offer, but it's still irritating because often there are some conditions attached (like a minimum amount that I have to spend) and if people see them only when visiting the website (perhaps only at the store checkout) they might think "well, I've come so far so let's do it anyway". This feels like cheating.
    – Nickkk
    Commented Jan 2, 2020 at 12:20
  • By the way, the flyer came with a gift card sticked onto it. The matching asterisk is explained on the back of the gift card, which was not visible while it was sticked onto the flyer. The matching asterisk reads "with an order value of at least 10.-, only redeemable online". Do you think this is still acceptable?
    – Nickkk
    Commented Jan 2, 2020 at 12:29

1 Answer 1

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By not providing any material to support the asterisk, the firm placing the ad lost an intended opportunity to clarify what they meant by the word "free" and are now left in the same position as if the asterisk had never appeared at all.

Realistically, somebody connected with the firm publishing the advertisement probably planned to clarify the meaning of the word "free" to give it a more narrow meaning than its undefined meaning without any qualifications. But apparently, somebody failed to get around to doing that or it was lost in a typesetting error. So, any restriction on the meaning of the word "free" that was intended by the firm has been lost, potentially causing the offer to be abused in ways that the firm hadn't bargained to commit itself to.

It pays to proofread anything that will be distributed to the general public because it can weaken the publisher legally by not saying something it should or by saying something inaccurate, and also because it makes the publishing firm look incompetent.

UPDATE FROM COMMENTS:

By the way, the flyer came with a gift card sticked onto it. The matching asterisk is explained on the back of the gift card, which was not visible while it was sticked onto the flyer. The matching asterisk reads "with an order value of at least 10.-, only redeemable online". Do you think this is still acceptable?

This is probably still effective to limit the offer. While it isn't readily visible, it is visible before you actually try to use the offer.

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