ASA ruling on alcohol and social responsibility - Macallan

Published on 07 November 2019

How easy is it for an alcohol ad to breach advertising rules on “social responsibility” when it includes daring or potentially dangerous behaviour? Does including elements of fantastical situations help you?

The key takeaway

Be cautious!  Any combination of dangerous behavior with alcohol in an ad is going to be extremely hard to defend – even if some of the elements are fantastical. 

The ad

Edrington Distillers advertised its single malt whisky with a 90-second ad which featured a man jumping from a cliff and falling towards the ground, before sprouting wings and flying. This was accompanied by the tagline: “Would you risk falling … for the chance to fly?” More text on the screen then stated, “The Macallan. Make the call”, which was accompanied by an image of a glass of whisky. The ad was shown on TV, video on demand and Instagram in December 2018.

The response

The ASA began an inquiry after receiving six complaints from people that the ad linked alcohol with daring, toughness or irresponsible behaviour.

Edrington said that the ad featured a “fantastical story”, was “mystical, almost mythical”, and “clearly removed from the real world”. The company also denied that the ad linked the consumption of alcohol with daring or irresponsible behaviour and said that the story portrayed in the ad was “simply a metaphor” for making decisions.

Clearcast said that it had considered the rule which prevents advertisers from linking alcohol with daring behaviour but had found that the ad was “fantastical enough” to be acceptable. ITV, who had shown the ad, said that they believed that the ad was “imaginary, fanciful and dreamlike; inasmuch as it was both detached from reality and grotesque”. Instagram said that the ad did not violate their policies and that they had not received any complaints in relation to it.

The decision

The ASA upheld the complaint and banned the ad from being shown again in its current form. It said that the scenes of the man falling from the cliff were reminiscent of the extreme sport of base-jumping and portrayed “very dangerous, potentially fatal and extreme risk-taking behaviour”. In response to Edrington’s argument that the ad was fantastical, the ASA stated that it had “noted that at that point in the ads there was no suggestion that the male character had any super-human attributes or powers, or that he was part of a mythical world”.

Despite the fact that the man in the ad was not shown consuming alcohol at any point, the ASA thought that the ad “made a clear association between an alcoholic product and potentially very dangerous, daring behaviour” and was therefore irresponsible.

Edrington was told to ensure that future ads did not link alcohol with daring, toughness or irresponsible behaviour.

Why is this important?

The ruling underlines the ASA's strict approach to ads which combine alcohol with daring situations.  Even if you get your ad through Clearcast, this doesn’t mean it won't get picked up – and potentially banned by the ASA - if consumers start complaining.

Any practical tips?

When advertising alcoholic products, be sure to avoid any portrayals of behaviour that could be considered dangerous, daring or irresponsible; even when based in situations which may seem to be fantastical or not based in reality.  Remember this applies even where the characters in the ads are not shown actually consuming alcohol.

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