A TV ad for Camden Town Brewery, seen on 24 May 2023, featured animated characters in a pub. A woman asked for “A pint of the usual” in a playful tone. A voiceover stated, “How about a refreshing choice?” The woman was sucked into the beer tap and transported to a fantasy-style brewery tour, with a photo booth and gift shop in the background, where she travelled in a beer glass along a river of beer. A blob-like cartoon figure rose up out of the beer and announced, “Welcome to Camden Town Brewery, yeah!”. The figure propelled the woman along, whooping and stating “Tanks! Kegs!” The woman asked in an excited tone “And what else?” and the figure, brandishing a pint of beer, replied, “What more do you want? It’s refreshing Camden Beer!” The background depicted, in succession, workers playing and swinging near large tanks of beer, a polar landscape with an animated polar bear and penguin in high-vis jackets among large beer cans, and neon signs which included “OFF YOU POP”, “THE TOUR IS OVER”, “IN A WHILE CROCODILE” and “XOXO”. The final scene showed the blob-like figure next to a range of the beer products. Text and a voiceover in the figure’s voice stated, “That’s fresh as hells”. A disembodied cartoon arm gave a thumbs-up sign and the figure winked.
The complainant, who said their young children found the ad engaging, challenged whether it was likely to appeal strongly to people under 18 years of age.
AB InBev UK Ltd t/a Camden Town Brewery Ltd said they had reviewed the ad to ensure compliance with the BCAP Code, with particular focus on the rule relating to appeal to those under 18-year-old. They believed it had a very clear adult tone throughout, and pointed out that it made no reference to youth culture. They asserted that the inclusion of animated characters alone would not make an ad of strong appeal to under-18s; they cited cartoon shows such as Family Guy, South Park and Futurama that were aimed at an adult audience. While they acknowledged that animation could appeal to children, after reviewing previous ASA rulings and the CAP Advice on “Alcohol: the use of cartoons, animals and characters” they concluded that stylisation, nature of drawings, tone and context were key in determining appeal. The colour palette, tone and style of the animation were dark, earthy and dull, with a focus on on-brand colours where appropriate, and used a painterly, sophisticated illustrative style. They said the colours were not bold or striking, and contrasted that with the flat style and bright, predominantly primary colours commonly seen in children’s cartoon shows. The characters were styled and accessorised to portray them as adults; the shape of the eyes was wide and squashed, rather than the oversized, bright and standout look that might appeal to children. They did not find the 'beer guide' slapstick or humorous; he was friendly rather than playful or juvenile.
The voice artists were chosen because they did not have “cute” or childish voices. The soundtrack was bespoke drum and bass, of a tone and pitch that would appeal to adults rather than children, as that musical style had originated in the 1990s.
The ad was set in a licensed public house and a brewery. The pub scene featured beer taps, a pub quiz sign, adult animated characters drinking beer and the phrase “pint of the usual” and the neon signs depicted those often found in bars. They believed those elements would not be familiar to or appeal to under-18s. Similarly, the brewery was clearly signposted “Camden Town Brewery Experience” and since brewery experiences were always restricted to over 18s, they believed that ensured the ad remained rooted in an environment that under 18s would not have experience of. The beer tanks and kegs were cleaned by adult characters, and the penguins and polar bears were not portrayed as “cute” or behaving in a juvenile manner, with the polar bear featuring piercings, tattoos and exposed claws, and the penguin having unnerving eyes. The brief scene with neon signs gave the atmospheric feel of a bar, consistent with the ad’s pervasive adult environment, and the final scene was very product focused with a glass of beer and beer cans, and featured the phrase “that’s fresh as hells”, which under-18s were unlikely to be familiar with.
The blob-like beer guide character was an extension of the beer river and was chosen to bring the brewery tour to life. It was the amber colour of beer, rather than a bright yellow colour which would appeal to children. Its colour was consistent throughout, to illustrate that it was an extension of the beer, to maintain the adult tone and remove any appeal to children. Camden Town Brewery explained that they had rejected any versions of the character that looked “cute” or relatable to children. It had a deep rather than a high-pitched voice, did not behave in a juvenile or adolescent manner, and in the penultimate scene it changed to have fiery, scary eyes and a ghostly creepy voice, which they believed would have the opposite effect of appealing to children. The character was not based on any existing characters and therefore would have no latent appeal to under-18s. They said the animation and style of the ad was synonymous with the Camden Town Brewery’s brand, which was well-established.
Clearcast said the ad had received a DC alcohol scheduling restriction, which ensured that it was not transmitted in or adjacent to children’s programmes or programmes commissioned for, principally directed at or likely to appeal particularly to audiences below the age of 18. They carefully considered the animation style and characters used prior to clearance and were satisfied they were not likely to have strong appeal to under-18s. They referred to a previous ASA ruling on a broadcast ad for Camden Town Brewery which had been judged not to be of strong appeal to under-18s. That ad had used a similar style of animation and had featured a talking cat and a pair of wacky-looking colourful characters.
They considered the animation style to be more in line with a cartoon aimed at an adult audience than something that would be seen in children’s programming. They believed the characters had mature, clearly adult voices, did not behave in a juvenile or adolescent manner and did not depict youth culture. They had worked closely with Camden Town Brewery to help them ensure that the beer guide character was not likely to have any strong youth appeal. They believed the character did not have “cutesy” features, like big pink lips and oversized eyes, in the style of a children’s cartoon or anime character. The previous ad for Camden Town Brewery, which had been judged not to be of strong appeal to under-18s, had featured a talking pint glass character with a smiling mouth and a beery hand that gave a thumbs-up sign. Clearcast believed the beer guide was similar in style to that character.
The ASA acknowledged that the ad had a broadcast restriction to keep it away from under-18 audiences. However, the BCAP Code required that, in addition to appropriate targeting, alcohol ads must not be likely to appeal strongly to people under 18 years of age, especially by reflecting or being associated with youth culture or showing adolescent or juvenile behaviour. It also required that they must not include a person or character whose example was likely to be followed by those aged under 18 years or who had a strong appeal to those aged under 18.
The ad was set in a pub and a brewery and featured an adult character ordering a pint of beer. We considered that, broadly speaking, it was animated in a style similar to cartoon programmes aimed at a mature audience. While we acknowledged that those elements were adult-oriented and would not necessarily be familiar or attractive to under-18s, we considered that other aspects of the ad were more playful and child-like. The colours were bold and striking, notably the bright red of the bar, the yellow and orange of the beer river and the bright wall of neon signs. We considered that younger viewers were likely to find that imagery engaging. The character was dragged through a beer pipe and taken on a journey through a fantastical-looking world with surreal background characters and a beer river. We considered that those features would be seen as fun and engaging, and likely to appeal to a younger audience.
The beer guide character was also brightly coloured, rounded and could change shape. We considered that it looked amiable and friendly, had soft facial features including rounded cheeks, and could be said to resemble a make-believe character in a children’s book or TV programme. We therefore considered that its appearance was likely to appeal to under 18s. Furthermore, we considered its behaviour was playful and unpredictable: it uttered exclamations, changed mood suddenly and seemed excited to push the visitor down the river at speed. The character reappeared at the end of the ad and engaged with viewers by winking and giving a thumbs-up sign. We considered that the actions of the beer guide character were juvenile and engaging, and therefore added to its appeal to younger viewers.
For those reasons, we considered that the ad was likely to appeal strongly to people under 18. We therefore concluded it was irresponsible and breached the Code.
The ad breached BCAP Code rules 19.15.1 and 19.15.2 (Alcohol).
The ad must not appear again in its current form. We told AB InBev t/a Camden Town Brewery Ltd to ensure that their future ads did not appeal strongly to people aged under 18 years of age.