Who: Advertising Standards Authority (“ASA”), Heineken UK Ltd (“Heineken”)
When: 7 October 2015
Law stated as at: 18 November 2015
The ASA published a ruling concerning an ad on Strongbow’s YouTube channel following a complaint from the Youth Alcohol Advertising Council, supported by Alcohol Concern.
The ad in question was a spoof video of an awards ceremony, in which a prize was being presented to the winner of a category called “Best Strongbow as my other half.” A picture of the winner, with a can of Strongbow in front of his face, appeared on screen. The presenter of the award explained that the winner was on a date and so could not attend to collect the award, therefore a statement was read out on his behalf. The winner’s speech stated “I dedicate this award to my family, to all the lovely creatures out there, and to my other half. I love you. I’ve loved you since the first day I met ya. And I always will do. My dear Strongbow.”
The complaint challenged whether the ad portrayed alcohol as being indispensable or as taking priority in life.
Heineken (the company behind the Strongbow brand) defended the ad, pointing out that the winner was only pictured with one can of Strongbow and that there were no references to him drinking more, drinking to relieve boredom or drinking on a solitary basis. Whilst Heineken recognised that the ad could infer that the winner was drinking Strongbow rather than being at the ceremony, they did not feel that this suggested alcohol was a necessity or priority in life and/or was indispensable.
Whilst the ASA acknowledged the humorous tone of the ad, it felt that the references to the winner being in love with Strongbow and as Strongbow being the winner’s “other half” implied that alcohol was as important to the winner as a significant relationship with another person. On that basis, the ASA felt that the ad portrayed alcohol as being indispensable and taking priority in life and upheld the complaint.
Why this matters:
This is the third time in 2015 that the ASA has investigated a complaint concerning an ad that has allegedly implied that alcohol might be indispensable or take priority in life or that drinking alcohol can overcome boredom, loneliness or other problems. This decision again shows the ASA taking a hard-headed approach when it comes to dealing with ads that imply, even in a humorous way, that alcohol plays a significant role in some people’s lives.
In contrast, earlier this year the ASA investigated a complaint against a tweet on the Guinness Twitter feed. The tweet stated “A good week starts here” and contained a photograph of the St James Brewery gates in Dublin. In that ruling, various factors, such as the fact that the ad did not feature any alcoholic drinks, consumption of alcohol or a particular social event, all helped contribute to the impression that the ad did not make a statement about the effects of alcohol on a social event or on someone’s mood. Accordingly, the ASA concluded that the ad was not in breach of the CAP Code.
These rulings demonstrate that advertisers should take caution when dealing with ads that feature alcohol being consumed at a social event as such ads are likely to be scrutinised in a harsher light by the ASA, even if the tone is humorous. In particular, there is a fine line between suggesting that consumers love or are passionate about an alcoholic product and the consumption of alcohol having an impact on a consumer’s mood or life.