Summary of Council decision:
Two issues were investigated, both of which were Upheld.
Three Instagram posts by AU Vodka (@auvodka) as part of ‘The Vodfather’ series:
a. The first Instagram post, published on 28 March 2023, included a caption which stated, “The Vodfather Has Spoken…”. The post featured a video with several scenes including one in which a man said, “Everybody in the UK, they can’t get enough of it.” The man then poured a bottle containing a pink liquid into a glass, whilst he said, “The Pink has been more successful for our family than the extortion and the gambling combined. But the old methods, they’re growing tired. I need you, my son, to teach these old dogs some new tricks.” The man then handed another man a briefcase and said, “Everything you need to make the best Pink in the world is right here in this case.”
The end of the ad cut to text that stated, “To Be Continued” whilst music played. On-screen text then stated, “The Vodfather”.
b. The second post, published on 5 April 2023 featured a video that included the rapper Clavish. The video opened with a car driving fast down a muddy track. At the same time the voiceover said, “The Vodfather had spoken. And when The Vodfather speaks, people stand to attention because they know, if they [bleep] up, tomorrow becomes a thing they might never get to see.” The ad then showed the man from ad (a) entering a gold shipping container.
Another scene showed two men referred to as “The Enforcers”. The voiceover said, “That’s Jamie and Geoff. These two are proper [bleep] old school. People call them ‘The Enforcers’. Even their nightmares are scared of these two.”
Later in the ad, people were seen wearing balaclavas and high-vis jackets looking at lemon trees. On-screen text stated, “STREET NAME – PINK LEMO” and “STREET VALUE - £££££££££”. The ad then showed The Enforcers hitting the men on the back of the heads and speaking to them in an aggressive manner.
Later in the ad, it showed one of The Enforcers who said, “Now we just got to get rid of all the gear.”
A later scene included a voiceover which said, “The Distributor, [bleep] me. This is a man who scares his own [bleep] shadow. You know when his name’s mentioned, it’s serious business. Well this is going to be [bleep] fun.” The on-screen text showed that the bleeped out words were ‘F***’, and ‘F******’. The ad showed a graphic of a silhouette of a man next to text that stated, “SUCCESS RATE: 100”, “THE DISTRO: THE MAN TO GET THE JOB DONE”.
c. An Instagram post published on 16 April 2023. The caption stated “@gypsyjohnfury The Distro [parcel emoji] Pt.3 Out Now”. The ad featured a video which opened with on-screen text that stated “THE DISTRO”.
Later in the ad it showed the man entering a shop whilst the voiceover said, “This geezer walked on water. He was the man you call when things needed fixing.” The video then showed the man drop a pink box on the counter in the shop. The ad later cut to a man behind the counter who said, “Hi, hi John. Hi John” in a nervous manner. The ad then cut to The Distro who said “John? Who you calling John? I’m the [bleep] Distributor”. The ad then cut back to the man behind the counter who repeatedly apologised in a nervous manner.
A later scene in the ad showed The Distributor entering different shops. The voiceover said, “The Distro travelled up and down the land to enforce a rise in sales of Pink Lemonade. I mean who’s going to say no to him? Look at him.” At the same time the ad showed the man placing the pink box on the counter of different shops and shaking his fist and pointing his finger in an aggressive manner. The voiceover said, “Before you knew it, the Pink Lemo was everywhere. When The Distro is called in, he gets the job done” and showed him pouring Pink Lemonade into a glass.
The ASA challenged whether:
1.ads (a), (b) and (c) were irresponsible because they showed and referred to aggressive behaviour and linked alcohol with tough and daring people and behaviour; and
2. ad (b) linked alcohol to illicit drugs.
Au Vodka Ltd said the intention behind ‘The Vodfather’ campaign was to advertise their new Pink Lemonade product and to entertain and engage their target audience through light-hearted and comedic sketches. They said they used celebrities, many of whom would be known by consumers for being linked to other comedic sketches and clips, to increase brand awareness and promote Au Vodka Pink Lemonade in a responsible manner.
1. They said that ads (a), (b) and (c) were intended as exaggerated humour and were not intended to promote or endorse actual aggressive behaviour, and they believed their customers would understand that. They said their marketing department took care to ensure the ads did not glamorise harmful or dangerous activities.
They believed that, because of the comical nature of the ads, they did not encourage irresponsible behaviour or present alcohol consumption as a prerequisite for toughness or daring behaviour.
2. Au Vodka said ad (b) involved comedic elements that included exaggerated behaviour and they did not accept the ad linked alcohol with illicit drugs. They said the ad focused on showcasing the unique qualities and characteristics of their alcohol brand, but in particular their Au Vodka Pink Lemonade product. They said at no point did the ad portray or imply that the consumption of Au Vodka Pink Lemonade was associated with, or dependent upon, illicit drug use. They also said the intention was not to glamorise illicit substances and they recognised the potential harm any association could cause. They said the ad clearly depicted lemon trees being grown and there were numerous close ups of them in the ad and the Au Vodka Pink Lemonade bottles were placed in the soil next to the trees.
They said the references in the ad to “the Pink” was a reference to their Au Vodka Pink Lemonade product, and that the references to “the gear” was also a direct reference to the product, which consumers would understand from the context in the ad. They acknowledged that ‘gear’ was a term that had various meanings, including being a slang term for drugs. However, they said it had other meanings and that in the overall context and tone of the ad, consumers would not interpret it as a reference to drugs.
Instagram acknowledged the complaint and said they would wait to hear the outcome of the investigation.
The CAP Code stated that marketing communications for alcoholic drinks must be socially responsible and must not show, imply or refer to aggressive behaviour or link alcohol with tough and daring people or behaviour.
The ad campaign was called “The Vodfather”, which we considered consumers would be aware was a parody of “The Godfather” films, which was a film series about an American Mafia family. Ad (a) featured a man who said, “The Pink has been more successful for our family than the extortion and gambling combined”. Extortion was a crime whereby a person demanded a victim pay money through intimidation, and we considered the reference to extortion implied aggressive behaviour.
Ad (b) featured a number of different scenes and opened with the voiceover saying, “The Vodfather had spoken, and when the Vodfather speaks, people stand to attention because they know if they [bleep] up, tomorrow becomes a thing they might never get to see.” We considered that this suggested that those who crossed the ‘Vodfather’ or made a mistake would be killed.
The ad also featured two characters called “The Enforcers” of which the voiceover said, “Even their nightmares are scared of these two”. Later in the ad the two men were shown hitting and shouting at people wearing balaclavas, who cowered in response. We considered that depicted aggressive behaviour and portrayed the ‘Enforcers’ as tough people. Later in the ad, the voiceover said, “The Distributor, [bleep] me. This is a man who scares his own [bleep] shadow” while the ad depicted a silhouette of a tall muscular person, which again we considered depicted a character in the ad as a tough person.
Ad (c) focused on the character called “The Distributor” who was first seen going into a shop and putting a box of Pink Lemonade on the counter, with the man behind the counter visibly nervous at his arrival. The Distributor was then seen being aggressive towards this man, who repeatedly apologised. Again, this character was depicted as a tough person engaging in aggressive behaviour.
Later in the ad, the voiceover said, “The Distro travelled up and down the land to enforce a rise in sales of Pink Lemonade. I mean, who’s going to say no to him” whilst the Distributor shaking his fist and pointing at the people behind the counter. We considered that this further depicted him as a tough person who engaged in aggressive behaviour.
We acknowledged Au Vodka’s comment that the ads were intended to be perceived in a light-hearted manner. However, because they showed and referred to aggressive behaviour, and linked alcohol with tough and daring people and behaviour we concluded that they did not comply with the Code rules on alcohol advertising and were irresponsible as a result.
On that point, ads (a), (b) and (c) breached CAP Code (Edition 12) rules 18.1 and 18.4 (Alcohol).
The CAP Code stated that marketing communications must not link alcohol to illicit drugs.
We noted ad (b) did not show drug use or anything which resembled illegal substances, and that the ad made clear the product being produced was an alcohol product.
However, we considered that the ad made several references to illicit drugs through the imagery and phrases used. The ad opened with a scene that featured a man entering a gold shipping container whilst the voiceover said, “Charlie had to get to the Pink Lemonade underground crop house, pronto, to make sure the team are doing their job” and that a later scene showed people in high-vis jackets and wearing balaclavas whilst tending to lemon trees that were under heat lamps. We considered that consumers would understand the ad to be making a reference to premises used for the production of drugs, such as a cannabis farm. We also considered that ‘crop house’, when used in the context of the rest of the ad, would be understood as a reference to where drugs such as cannabis were grown.
A later scene showed the people in the balaclavas and high-vis jackets who were tending the trees being threatened and hit, which we also considered to be a reference to the coercion and exploitation involved in the production of illicit drugs.
One scene showed the lemon trees with on-screen text that stated, “Street Name: Pink Lemo” and underneath “Street Value - £££££££££”. We considered it was common for drugs to have a ‘street’ name, or one which people commonly called that drug by, and that ‘street value’ was a term for how much drugs sold for.
The ad also featured a scene of a man who said, “Now we just got to get rid of all the gear”. We acknowledged ‘gear’ was a term that had multiple meanings, but we understood it was also a commonly known slang term for drugs.
We considered the references set out above in an ad for an alcoholic drink constituted a link between alcohol and illicit drugs. Because the ad linked alcohol with illicit drugs, we concluded that it breached the Code.
On that point, ad (b) breached CAP Code (Edition 12) rule 18.8 (Alcohol).
The ads must not appear again in their current form. We told Au Vodka Ltd to ensure their ads were socially responsible and did not show or refer to aggressive behaviour or linked alcohol with tough and daring people and behaviour. We also told them not to link alcohol with illicit drugs.