Summary of Council decision:
Two issues were investigated, both of which were Upheld.
An outdoor poster ad for an alcohol-free beer by BrewDog, seen in October 2019, included text which stated “SOBER AS A MOTHERFU” next to the image of a beer can with the text “BREWDOG”, “PUNK AF” and “ALCOHOL FREE IPA” written on it.
The ASA received 26 complaints:
1. All the complainants challenged whether the ad was likely to cause serious or widespread offence.
2. Sixteen complainants also challenged whether the ad was inappropriate for display in a medium where it could be seen by children.
BrewDog plc said the campaign began on 21 October and was scheduled to run for two weeks across 44 poster sites. They said the ad was not designed to cause offence and given it contained no profanity, it would not cause serious or widespread offence and was not inappropriate for display in a medium where it could be seen by children.
BrewDog said the ad was for an alcohol-free product and was designed to be an alternative to alcohol consumption. They said the ad was designed to be eye-catching and considered it promoted being sober. BrewDog did not believe the number of complaints received was indicative of ‘widespread’ offence. They believed that as no profanity or offensive language was used in the ad, they could not see how any offence caused could be construed as ‘serious’.
UKBillboards said the dictionary classified the word ‘motherfucker’ as vulgar slang, but they did not believe the context in which it was used in the ad was offensive. They provided two definitions of the word – “A despicable or very unpleasant person or thing” and “A person or thing of a specified kind, especially one that is formidable, remarkable, or impressive in some way” – and said that in the context of the ad, the word was consistent with the latter definition.
1. & 2. Upheld
The ASA understood the ad was featured in billboard media on which no restrictions had been placed and that it was therefore viewable by a general audience, including children.
One complainant identified that the ad was placed immediately outside a primary school. We considered older children and adults who saw the ad would understand “MOTHERFU” was a truncated version of the expletive ‘motherfucker’. We acknowledged that the word was not displayed in its entirety; however, we considered the word ‘motherfucker’ was clearly being alluded to, and “motherfu” would therefore be understood as a clear reference to that swear word. We considered that word was so likely to offend a general audience that such a reference should not appear in media where it was viewable by such an audience. We concluded the ad was likely to cause serious and widespread offence and that it was not appropriate for display in media where it could be seen by children.
The ad breached CAP Code (Edition 12) rules 1.3 (Social responsibility) and 4.1 (Harm and offence).
The ad must not appear again in the form complained about. We told BrewDog plc to ensure they avoided causing serious or widespread offence by, for example, avoiding references to expletives in media targeted to a general audience which included children.