The Funny Business of Free Samples in Canada

Few days ago, I posted the following challenge and hoped someone would notice what was going on and we could have some fun in the discussions.

Try to state what you see in the video clip and explain why.

Bonus points: explain what you don’t see but can imagine happen.

Well, it is time to post my observation/solution.

Points noted in Haricot’s & hevangel’s comments.

– it was a “free” sample tasting.

– The girl gave money (pennies, nickels, or dimes) to people for them to give the coins right back to her before they take their drinks.

Additional points not covered in posted comments.

– To me, the key issue not covered in the comments was why the girl gave people (I will call them the “samplers”) the coins, so they can give the coins back to her before taking the drinks?

– To me, what was happening was the artificial creation of a contract and the money (a penny/nickel/dime) was the “consideration“. I bet some “smart” lawyers must have cooked up this “contract” to try to solve some “problem”.

You may ask, what problem? Well, the drinks happened to be vitamin water, and as such, it is governed by Health Canada. (note: one of the water company rep told me they did the coins thing to make Health Canada happy)

– Now, here comes the tricky part. I suspect the vitamin water company consulted with some lawyers and decided that by faking the free samples as a “purchase” with the coins given to the people, they will have a contract so the company is free from legal liabilities if people get sick from drinking the vitamin water.

Not so fast. I think we have a problem! Now, I am not a lawyer, I don’t play a lawyer on TV, and I am definitely not a contract lawyer, but I suspect giving out coins to fake a “purchase” may not stand as a valid “contract“.

You see, the coins were given out and then taken right back from the samplers. So the court may see this act as purely designed to pretend/fake a contract. Again, the coins were never free for the people to take away. The coins were only give to people who were expected to use to “buy” the drink samples. The same number of coins were in plastic container in the morning as they were at the end of the day. If the coins were never the samplers to keep, there is NOTHING for the samplers to give up. So no consideration. Now, I am not sure if I am right, so I love to hear others’ legal observations on this.

Problem 2 is the issue of whether the samplers had informed consent? Since there were never any explanations of the true purpose of the coins giving and returning by the representatives of the vitamin water company, I wonder how many people would realize, by taking the coins and then give them back, that they have entered into a “contract”. And if they got sick from the drinks, well, tough luck. Is informed consent required? I don’t know but I hope yes.

Problem 3 is the bonus challenge. There were young kids (minors, persons under age of 18) taking the drinks. The problem with the above coin giving-and-taking-back ritual won’t work for minors because they are not able, based on my limited understanding of Canadian contractual law, to enter into a legal contract. Only their legal guardians can sign things or enter into a “contract” for them.

Here isn’t a proper ref, but I am using this bit from Wikipeida: “A minor (typically under 18) can disaffirm a contract made, no matter the case.” The trouble for the water company is that, I suspect, their coins trick don’t work for minors (15, 16, or 17, anyone under 18)

– It put a big smile on my face when I saw the exchange of coins in such a strange manner and when I figured out what was going on.

I love the smell of __lawyer__ in the morning! :)

3 Responses to The Funny Business of Free Samples in Canada

  1. Haricot says:

    Not only does the “contract” appear to be a shell game, there is also the issue of “misrepresentation”.

    Wikipedia: “… Misrepresentation means a false statement of fact made by one party to another party and has the effect of inducing that party into the contract. For example, under certain circumstances, false statements or promises made by a seller of goods regarding the quality or nature of the product that the seller has may constitute misrepresentation. A finding of misrepresentation allows for a remedy of rescission and sometimes damages depending on the type of misrepresentation.

    There are two types of misrepresentation in contract law, fraud in the factum and fraud in inducement. Fraud in the factum focuses on whether the party in question knew they were creating a contract. If the party did not know that they were entering into a contract, there is no meeting of the minds, and the contract is void. Fraud in inducement focuses on misrepresentation attempting to get the party to enter into the contract. Misrepresentation of a material fact (if the party knew the truth, that party would not have entered into the contract) makes a contract voidable. …”

  2. Haricot says:

    Context of my previous comments:

    As more and more “additives” (such as stimulants) are found in foods and drinks, govt policy-makers will need to determine whether a commercial product should be defined as just a regular grocery item, or as a drug and/or health product. Advertising for the latter is overseen by Health Canada.

    Health Canada: “… Our department is committed to ensuring that information in a health product advertisement is not false, misleading or deceptive. We may intervene when an advertisement poses a significant safety concern, in the event that resolution is not achieved through the independent agencies’ complaints mechanism, when a prescription drug is illegally advertised to the general public or when an unauthorized health product is promoted. …”

  3. kempton says:


    Very insightful observations, “Not only does the “contract” appear to be a shell game, there is also the issue of “misrepresentation”.

    The additives are also a major challenge with all those “energy drinks”. To me, these drinks are more a delivering devices for caffeine ( C8H10N4O2 ) and the sale is worth to be studied and possibly regulated by Health Canada.

    E.g. Here is an interesting piece by CBC about energy drinks and kids,

%d bloggers like this: