Summary of Council decision:
Five issues were investigated, of which three were Upheld and two were Not upheld.
A promotion on studentmoneysaver.com's Facebook page, featured an image of a woman wearing knickers and a vest pouring beer from a bottle into her mouth so that it spilled down her body. She was surrounded by several crates of branded beer. Text alongside stated "We're giving away 20 crates of beer to one of our lucky fans ... Anna Watts not included! SHARE this photo to enter! (Ends midnight Sunday)".
The complainant challenged whether:
1. the promotion linked alcohol to seduction, sexual activity or sexual success;
2. the image was likely to cause serious or widespread offence to women;
3. the promotion showed alcohol being handled irresponsibly;
4. the promotion encouraged excessive drinking; and
5. the promotion made alcohol available to under 18-year-olds.
Student Money Saver Ltd (SMS) said they had not intended to cause offence or breach advertising standards. They noted that out of 1.7 million people who had viewed the ad, only one had complained about it. They said that although they could not accept the points raised by the complainant, they would be paying close attention to the Code in future to reduce the risk of further complaints about their advertising.
1. SMS said there was no suggestion in the ad of any link between sexual success, sexual activity, seduction and alcohol. They said there was nothing in the text or the image that implied that drinking would make the model either sexually available or more successful sexually because she was consuming a beer.
2. SMS believed the ad was unlikely to cause offence to women. They said they had gauged the response of the visitors to their Facebook page carefully to see if anyone was offended and concluded from the fact that many women had entered the competition, had commented favourably about it on the Facebook page or had "liked" it on Facebook that they had not. SMS said they had only received one negative comment and they provided a copy of this, although they were unable to provide copies of the other comments because they had been deleted.
3. & 4. SMS said they were careful not to show irresponsible drinking in the ad. The model was shown drinking one small bottle of Stella Artois which contained fewer than 1.7 units of alcohol. They deliberately avoided showing any empty bottles or open boxes around her which might have implied she had been drinking or was planning on drinking more. The wording of the ad deliberately avoided any references to getting drunk.
5. SMS accepted they should have explicitly stated in the ad that the competition was for over 18-year-olds only. Although the visitors to their Facebook page were largely made up of university students who were over 18, SMS accepted they should have considered whether others could have accessed the competition. They said they were careful not to choose a winner who was under 18 and they ensured that the winner was over 18 by e-mailing them and looking at their Facebook profile. They said the winner confirmed they had graduated from university several months beforehand and the winner's Facebook page showed photos of them drinking at parties dating back several years. They said they would not have allowed any person under 18 to win the competition and confirmed that if they were ever to run a similar competition in future, they would make clear that it was only open to over 18s.
Facebook said the ad violated their guidelines and policies. They had removed it and age-gated the page so that it could only be accessed to over 18s. They said advertisers were responsible for ensuring compliance with the advertising code.
The ASA noted that the woman in the promotion was wearing a white vest rolled up to expose her mid-riff and knickers. She was seen pouring beer into her mouth seductively so that it spilled over and ran down her body, soaking her vest. We considered that her body language was provocative and sexually suggestive. We also noted that text in the ad stated "Anna Watts not included!" which we considered was a tongue-in-cheek reference to the idea that Ms Watts was available sexually. For these reasons, we concluded that the promotion linked alcohol to seduction and sexual success.
On this point, the promotion breached CAP Code (Edition 12) rule 18.5 18.5 Marketing communications must neither link alcohol with seduction, sexual activity or sexual success nor imply that alcohol can enhance attractiveness. (Alcohol).
2. Not upheld
We noted that the promotion featured on SMS's Facebook page and was likely to be seen by women and men who were university students. We noted that the accompanying text "Anna Watts not included!" was a tongue-in-cheek reference to her not being part of the prize and considered that although Ms Watts was wearing only a vest and knickers, she was not dressed indecently. We understood that 385 comments were made about the promotion and only one was negative. We also understood that 1,629 Facebook users had "liked" the promotion. We considered that although the image was likely to be considered tasteless by some Facebook users, it was unlikely to cause serious or widespread offence.
On this point, we investigated the promotion under CAP Code (Edition 12) rule
Marketing communications must not contain anything that is likely to cause serious or widespread offence. Particular care must be taken to avoid causing offence on the grounds of race, religion, gender, sexual orientation, disability or age. Compliance will be judged on the context, medium, audience, product and prevailing standards.
Marketing communications may be distasteful without necessarily breaching this rule. Marketers are urged to consider public sensitivities before using potentially offensive material.
The fact that a product is offensive to some people is not grounds for finding a marketing communication in breach of the Code. (Harm and offence) but did not find it in breach.
We noted SMS's comment about the size of the bottle of beer but we disagreed. We considered that it was a large bottle of Stella Artois and we noted that the woman was pouring the beer into her mouth continuously so that it spilled down over her chin, rather than drinking it from the bottle in the usual manner. We noted that the bottle was part-empty and that she had already "consumed" about a third of the bottle. The woman was surrounded by approximately 20 boxes of beer and we considered that her casual and careless style of drinking, with the implication that there was plenty more alcohol to drink, portrayed a style of drinking that was unwise and showed alcohol being handled irresponsibly.
On this point, the promotion breached CAP Code (Edition 12) rules 8.5 8.5 Promotions must not be socially undesirable to the audience addressed by encouraging excessive consumption or irresponsible use. (Sales promotions), 18.1 18.1 Marketing communications must be socially responsible and must contain nothing that is likely to lead people to adopt styles of drinking that are unwise. For example, they should not encourage excessive drinking. Care should be taken not to exploit the young, the immature or those who are mentally or socially vulnerable. and 18.11 18.11 Marketing communications must not feature alcohol being handled or served irresponsibly. (Alcohol).
We considered that the way in which the woman was drinking the beer, together with the crates surrounding her, gave the impression that there was plenty more alcohol to drink and that the image alone encouraged excessive drinking. We noted the promotion stated "We're giving away 20 crates of beer to one of our lucky fans" and there was no suggestion that the prize could be shared with others at a social gathering. We therefore considered that the text added to this impression and concluded that the promotion condoned and encouraged excessive consumption of alcohol.
On this point, the promotion breached CAP Code (Edition 12) rules 8.5 8.5 Promotions must not be socially undesirable to the audience addressed by encouraging excessive consumption or irresponsible use. (Sales promotions), 18.1 18.1 Marketing communications must be socially responsible and must contain nothing that is likely to lead people to adopt styles of drinking that are unwise. For example, they should not encourage excessive drinking. Care should be taken not to exploit the young, the immature or those who are mentally or socially vulnerable. and 18.10 18.10 Marketing communications that include a promotion must not imply, condone or encourage excessive consumption of alcohol. (Alcohol).
5. Not upheld
We understood that SMS's Facebook page could be accessed by Facebook users of any age and although most visitors to the page were university students, it did not necessarily follow that all university students were aged 18 or over or that younger people could not access the page. We understood that SMS had not intended to award the prize to anyone under 18 and they had taken steps to ensure the winner was over 18 by e-mailing them and checking their Facebook profile. They provided copies of their e-mail correspondence with the winner and the winner's date of birth as displayed on their Facebook page, which indicated that they were 23 years of age. We concluded that because SMS had taken steps to verify the winner's age and had determined they were over 18, the promotion had not made alcohol available to under-18s. However, we welcomed SMS's assurance that if they were ever to run a similar promotion in future, they would make clear that it was only open to over 18s.
On this point, we investigated the promotion under CAP Code (Edition 12) rule 8.4 8.4 Alcoholic drinks must not feature in promotions directed at people under 18. Alcohol must not be available on promotion to anyone under 18. (Sales promotion) but did not find it in breach.
The promotion must not appear again in its current form. We welcomed Facebook's assurance that the promotion had been removed.