"No contract"

OK, I am watching TV adverts again, sorry. I really must learn.

This is not the first time I have seen adverts for something use the phrase "NO CONTRACT". This time was for NOW TV.

I think they mean no minimum term, or no "tie in" or some such. But I am sure they do not mean "No contract". Saying "no contract" has an important legal meaning.

Basically, you can make an agreement with someone. When you do, it can either be a contractual, and hence enforceable, agreement, or it can be a non-contractual agreement bound by honour only.

You may think that a non-contractual agreement is unusual, but it is something we all do every day. Most social agreements made with friends are non-contractual: "you get this round, I'll get the next", etc.

But even things you may think of as commercial that people use every day are non contractual, like using the Royal Mail.

A non contractual agreement is still an agreement. It is still two parties each agreeing to do something for the other. The difference is that is cannot be enforced. You cannot sue someone for failing to do what they agreed when there is no contract. This works well when the agreed upon actions go together, even handing over money for something if done as a single transaction, does not need to be a contract.

How do you know if an agreement is a contract? Well there are defaults - a social agreement is normally non contractual. Betting with a bookie used to be non contractual (not sure if that is the case these days). But most commercial things, buying goods or services, etc, are assumed to have a contract. But this is the default, and can be changed by an explicit statement. So stating "NO CONTRACT" is stating that the agreement is non-contractual.

What does this mean? Well, it means that you pay your money and the service may or may not be provided. Better still, you agree to pay money and then don't and they cannot really do anything about it (apart from stopping providing the service). Now maybe, for a pre-paid TV service it makes sense to have no contract. They know they can stop the service if you don't pay.

Still, a slightly worrying trend for marketing people not to know this.


  1. I guess it's like a payg sim vs a "contract" sim for a mobile phone - you can bet that the payg sim still has t&c so it still technically "on contract"

  2. Marketing people know nothing about anything in my experience, they just make things up which they think mean something or sound good.

  3. I'm not surprised to hear marketing people talking BS... This is what they are paid to do afterall.

    However, I don't really see much difference between advertising a contract service as "no contract", advertising a limited internet service as "unlimited" and advertising an internet service that uses baseband modulation as "broadband". (The latter two of these have been ok'd by the ASA. In fact, the ASA have banned calling internet connections "broadband" if they don't meet minimum speed requirements, irrespective of the fact that they may well use broadband modulation.)

    So basically: laypeople will use terms that are incorrect or even completely the opposite of what they *really* mean, then the marketing people will get in on the act and finally the regulators will rule that the incorrect meaning is in fact correct and the correct meaning isn't allowed to be used any more.

    (See "hacker" for details too :)


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