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BBB cautions dealers to beware of Black Friday pitfalls in their ads

November 13, 2020
Upon finishing their turkey legs, Americans each year prepare for the next American holiday: Black Friday. Advertising around that occasion can get creative, but the Better Business Bureau reminds dealers about Illinois advertising rules that prohibit dealers from touting free gifts and offers.
Despite the times, the BBB has consistently applied the Illinois Motor Vehicle Advertising Regulations to dealer practices as they become known. Dealers themselves have expressed the importance of a fair marketplace in which no dealer offers promotions that conflict with the regulations and harm the sales of other dealers.
With that in mind, the BBB wants to alert dealers to certain practices relating to Black Friday promotions. "We often see Black Friday offers that dealers would not otherwise run, involving free incentives with the sale or lease of vehicles," said Patricia Kelly, senior counsel of the BBB’s Chicago office. She reminds dealers of the language of rule 475.590 that relates to Black Friday promotions.
Section 475.590 Gifts and Free Offers
  a) It is an unfair or deceptive act to advertise or offer free prizes, gifts or other incentives in connection with the purchase or lease of a vehicle where the vehicle is sold or leased at a price arrived at through bargaining or negotiation, unless the dealer meets the requirements of subsection (b) of this Section.
  b) A free prize, gift or other incentive may be advertised or offered in connection with the purchase or lease of a vehicle if:
  1) the free prize, gift or other incentive is offered through a manufacturer’s program or a manufacturer’s authorized and approved dealer advertising association without any participation by the dealer, excluding dues or assessments that are required to participate in the advertising association. The program or association shall be clearly and conspicuously disclosed; and
  2) all material terms and conditions relating to the offer are clearly and conspicuously disclosed at the outset of the offer.
While Black Friday is a time when other general retailers with fixed prices offer free promotions, Illinois dealers are prohibited by rule 475.590 from advertising or offering free prizes, gifts or other incentives in connection with the purchase or lease of a vehicle because the price is arrived at through bargaining or negotiation.   
"This rule is very broad," Kelly said. "It covers anything a dealer advertises or offers for free or included or any other expression of that notion."
In past years, Kelly said the BBB has seen offers that included electronics, smart phone items and remote starters.   The list, she said, is as long as the imagination.
"We have also seen contests, such as wheel spins, that purport to be independent of sales and include ‘no purchase necessary’ language," she said. "But consumers and BBB ‘shoppers’ have reported that dealer staff told consumers at the store of a different standard.   Consumers who win a wheel spin free item, for instance, are told they must buy or lease a vehicle to obtain the prize."
The BBB seeks to assist dealers in thinking about their Black Friday promotions in line with rule 475.590. The BBB has referred dealers in the past to the office of the Illinois attorney general under the BBB/CATA advertising review program because of free promotions during Black Friday events.  "Violations of rule 475.590 are considered zero tolerance issues per the CATA Board of Directors and we take these issues very seriously," Kelly said.
Therefore, the BBB hopes that dealers consider their Black Friday promotions carefully with this rule in mind.  As always, the BBB is ready to assist CATA members by reviewing their advertising content prior to publication to ensure compliance with rule 475.590.  
"We wish dealers good sales in the coming weeks, as the holidays approach," said Kelly. "Our intent, as always, is to encourage a level playing field in usual times and in the times we are having now.  
"We hope that all dealers consider their promotions for Black Friday with these principles in mind."