Quite often on advertising, there are claims made and challenges set for consumers in a way designed to induce you into purchasing goods or services. But are these just a sales “puff” or are they binding on the company making the promises.
All law students study a case from the late 1800’s called Carlill v Carbolic Smoke Ball Co. A smoke ball was meant to be a cure for influenza, and showing the company’s confidence, they advertised that “£100 reward will be paid by the Carbolic Smoke Ball Company to any person who contracts the increasing epidemic influenza” after using the balls as directed.
Many thousands of this product was sold. A Mrs Carlill made a purchase, used it as directed and contracted influenza. After writing letters to the Carbolic Smoke Ball Company with no response, Mrs Carlill asked her husband (who happened to be a lawyer) to pursue the case.
Carbolic’s argument was that it was “mere puffery” and that the promise shouldn’t have been taken seriously. The court ruled otherwise saying that the advertisement was an offer to the world, and therefore anyone purchasing the product was accepting the offer. In contract law, an offer followed by acceptance is agreement.
This case is considered to be the basis for much of the contract law from which protection is enjoyed by so many consumers today.
As a side note, it must not have been too devastating for Carbollic. They then started another company, with limited liability, and then repeated the offer, for £200 reward.
In the article “Mark Taylor”, I’ll explain that when Mark Taylor says, “That’s a great offer from Fujitsu” it’s not really an offer at all.
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This is intended for general information and does not constitute legal advice and should not be relied upon as such. Formal legal advice should be sought.