Who: Diageo, David Beckham and the Advertising Standards Authority
When: 28 January 2015
Law as stated at: 8 March 2015
Irresponsible alcohol advertising?
David Beckham is Diageo’s brand ambassador for the Haig Club whisky brand, and appeared in a television ad, also streamed on the brand’s YouTube Channel. Beckham and other actors were shown driving motorcycles dressed in stylish evening apparel. On meeting each other, Beckham poured everyone a tumbler of the whisky. The charity Alcohol Concern complained to the ASA about featuring the ex- footballer as he holds a strong appeal to under 18s.
Further, according to Alcohol Concern, the ad implied that drinking was a crucial element of success and achieving social acceptance. In the context of the ad, where the motorcyclists travelled across apparently dangerous terrain in the Scottish Highlands to drink whisky with Beckham, refusing the drink could be interpreted as a sign of weakness.
David Beckham: target audience over 25?
Diageo countered that the ads were not likely to appeal to those under 18 by stating that Haig Club whisky’s target audience was primarily males between 25 and 40 years.
Beckham would appeal to this target audience, they said, rather than to children or individuals below the age of 18, as he had not played in the Premier Football League for over 10 years and consequently would predominantly be remembered as a global icon amongst men over the age of 25.
Further, Diageo argued that Beckham’s career in advertising has focused on high-end brands and his charitable and media pursuits are in general aimed at an older audience, reflecting the fact that his resonance is with adults rather than children.
In response to the complaint that the ad suggested social acceptance could be achieved by drinking, Diageo pointed out that the ad clearly depicted friends meeting after a long journey to spend the weekend together. Alcohol was not a component in bringing the individuals together, they said, and the ad did not show any pressure being applied to drink.
ASA: David Beckham has no particular resonance with children
The ASA did not uphold either complaint. The regulator held that the ad did not suggest that drinking was necessary to form friendships because the whisky was consumed as part of a social occasion and the ASA noted that it had been clear from the ad that the individuals were already friends before drinking.
As to whether including David Beckham in the ad was irresponsible, the ASA decided that it was not as he was not a figure with a particularly strong appeal to under 18s. Beckham had not played for a UK club in the last decade and was unlikely to have any great resonance with children who had not grown up with him as an icon.
Why this matters:
Advertisers looking to use celebrities as brand ambassadors for alcohol or in advertising for alcoholic products should ensure that they are not sportspeople with a particular appeal to children.
However, as this decision indicates, using a sportsperson who has achieved success through other endeavours or who has retired and is unlikely to have any strong appeal to children will probably not fall foul of the ASA’s advertising code.