Summary of Council decision:
Three issues were investigated, all of which were Not upheld.
A promoted tweet for Captain Morgan, seen on 18 September, stated “When your student loan hits your bank account…Like if you’re celebrating! #Freshers #LikeACaptain” and a two-second gif of a smiling pirate fist pumping the air.
A complainant challenged whether the ad:
1. encouraged irresponsible spending on alcohol amongst students;
2. was of particular appeal to people under 18; and
3. was inappropriately targeted at people under 18.
1. Diageo Great Britain Ltd t/a Captain Morgan said they did not think that the promoted tweet suggested, condoned or encouraged irresponsible spending on alcohol amongst university students. They said the humorous tone and content was designed to be conversational and to play on events to which students could relate – the receipt of a student loan. They said it was not a call to action to consume or purchase alcohol and the ad did not show alcohol being consumed or show any alcohol products.
2. They said the content of the gif displayed Captain Morgan, the brand’s trade mark since 1984, dressed in traditional 17th century buccaneer attire. They believed the language reflected the brand tone and satirical nature of Captain Morgan. They said gifs were commonly used as a format for digital content and did not have particular appeal to people under the age of 18, nor were they reflective of youth culture. They also said the fist pump demonstrated by Captain Morgan was a common expression of celebration which would not have particular appeal to people under the age of 18. They believed the behaviour was humorous but not adolescent or juvenile.
3. Captain Morgan said the promoted Tweet was delivered and targeted only to Twitter users aged 18 years and above. They believed they had taken all reasonable steps to ensure that the content was not directed at those under 18. They said Twitter was not a platform that was popular with under-18s. Twitter’s own demographic data showed 81% of UK Twitter users were aged 18 years and over, while a third party web-traffic software, which used a broader range of data sources, calculated 91% of Twitters users were aged over 18. They said that the discrepancy in the figures was due to different datasets and methodologies used by Twitter and the web-traffic software. They said those figures gave a high degree of confidence that Twitter had an over 18 age profile significantly greater than 75%. Further, they had independently verified that their ad campaigns in general across different platforms had an age accuracy rate of 91% for campaigns targeted at over 18s.
Captain Morgan said they used additional interest based targeting which comprised of a combination of ‘keyword’ targeting or ‘follower’ targeting, so users would only have received the tweet if they were registered as 18 years or older and met the set criteria for either ‘keyword targeting’ or ‘follower targeting’. They said the keywords “uni”, “fresher” or “fresher’s” were applied to identify users who had searched or tweeted those words in the seven days leading up to the date of the ad, around the time of freshers’ week. They believed those terms were synonymous with university life and intended to target university students only. They had obtained demographic data from the Higher Education Statistics Agency (HESA) which showed that 99% of those starting Higher Education were aged 18 years or over in the UK. With respect to Scotland, where students were able to start university before they turned 18, 95% were aged 18 years or over with a small minority (4.9%) of students aged under-18.
Captain Morgan explained that ‘Follower targeting’ was also used, which targeted the ad at users who were identified by Twitter’s algorithm as similar to those who followed the UniLad profile. They said a third party web-traffic analysis software showed that the website Unilad had an audience profile of 99.7% aged 18 or over.
Captain Morgan said that they believed the relevant test under the Code was whether 25% of the ad’s audience was under 18. They said it was not viable with current technology to guarantee that all children would not see the ad. Whilst digital advertising on social media enabled them to take reasonable steps to lessen the likelihood of under-18s being inadvertently exposed to alcohol ads, advertising on social media was not commensurate with personalised direct marketing to known individuals, and therefore should not be measured as such.
1. Not upheld
The ASA noted that the ad referred to “freshers” and was posted during freshers’ week – the first week of the first academic year at university. We considered many people would associate freshers’ week with meeting new people who were fellow students, and socialising with them, including drinking alcohol. We considered people would know it was the time when students would receive their first student loan payments. We also acknowledged the ad was intended to be humorous. In light of that particular context, we considered that people would understand that the ad was light-heartedly implying that students could spend some of their student loan money on socialising and alcohol. While the ad played on that implication, we did not consider it explicitly or assertively encouraged the spending of student loan payments on alcohol. We further considered there was nothing in the ad that suggested that should be done to excess. Therefore, we concluded that the ad did not encourage irresponsible spending on alcohol.
On that point, we investigated the ad under CAP Code (Edition 12) rule 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. (Alcohol) but did not find it in breach.
2. Not upheld
The CAP Code required that alcohol ads must not be likely to appeal particularly to people under 18, especially by reflecting or being associated with youth culture. Therefore, the ad could not appeal more strongly to under-18s than it did to those aged 18 and over.
The ad featured a character dressed as a buccaneer. Whilst we considered that the costume and playfulness of the ad might have some appeal to children and teenagers, we did not consider it would have particular appeal to under-18s, as there were no further childlike or youthful elements to the ad which supported that impression. We considered that, as the character appeared older, under-18s were unlikely to identify with it. We also considered that there was nothing distinct about the costume, which was somewhat muted, that would be of particular appeal to under-18s. Further, we considered the gif format, text used, and motions made by the character were not likely to have particular appeal to any particular age group. We therefore concluded the ad was unlikely to have particular appeal to under-18s and did not breach the Code on that point.
On that point, we investigated the ad under CAP Code rules 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 18.14 18.14 Marketing communications must not be likely to appeal particularly to people under 18, especially by reflecting or being associated with youth culture. They should not feature or portray real or fictitious characters who are likely to appeal particularly to people under 18 in a way that might encourage the young to drink. People shown drinking or playing a significant role (see rule 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. ) should not be shown behaving in an adolescent or juvenile manner. (Alcohol), but did not find it in breach.
3. Not upheld
The CAP Code required that alcohol marketing communications must not be directed at people under 18 through the selection of media or the context in which they appeared. It secondly required that no medium should be used to advertise alcoholic drinks if more than 25% of its audience was under 18 years of age.
In contrast to one-to-many communications such as outdoor posters and TV ads where the nature of the medium prevented the marketer from being able to only serve ads to a specific audience, a promoted Tweet was able to be delivered directly to select Twitter users who had a registered age of 18 or older and whose interests matched those selected by the marketer. Therefore, because the ad was able to be targeted at a defined set of users, the relevant test under the Code was whether the ad had been directed at people under 18. It was not relevant whether more than 25% of Twitters users or those users who saw the ad were aged 18 and over.
We agreed with Captain Morgan that they could not be expected to guarantee that all under 18s would not see the ad. Instead, we considered that on social media, marketers should be able to demonstrate that they have taken reasonable steps to ensure that alcohol ads were directed at an audience that was aged 18 and over so as to minimise children’s exposure to them. Because younger users might misreport their age on social media, we considered that marketers should not rely solely on age data, and should additionally use interest-based factors, where available, to help exclude those aged under 18 from a target audience
We considered that the proportion of under-18s on the platform would be relevant in determining the extent to which interest-based or other behavioural targeting would be needed in order to ensure that the ad was not directed at under-18s. For instance, on platforms popular with under-18s, it could be necessary for marketers to both select interest-based factors popular with adult audiences and de-select interest-based factors popular with under-18s. On the other hand, if an ad appeared on a medium that was used by hardly any under-18s, then interest-based targeting might, in those circumstances, be unnecessary.
In this case, the available data from Twitter and a third party web-traffic analysis software indicated that between 81% and 91% of users were aged 18 and over. We therefore acknowledged that, while Twitter was a medium that was used by under-18s, that data did not suggest that it was particularly popular with them. We also acknowledged that the ad was delivered to registered Twitter users aged 18 years and above.
We noted that keyword targeting had been used by Captain Morgan to identify users registered as 18 or over who had recently tweeted or searched for the keywords “uni”, “fresher” or “fresher’s”. We considered that, given that the ad appeared during fresher’s week, those terms were likely to be tweeted and searched for predominantly by those currently in their first year of university, of whom 99% were aged 18 and over in the UK.
Captain Morgan had separately used Twitter’s “follower targeting” functionality, whereby the tweet was served to Twitter users who were identified by Twitter as similar to followers of the website Unilad, which we understood had an audience of whom 99% was aged 18 or over. We therefore considered that those identified as similar to followers of Unilad were also likely to be aged 18 or over.
Because Twitter was a medium primarily used by those aged 18 and over and Captain Morgan had targeted the ad at users registered as 18 and over, and because the interest-based targeting helped further exclude under-18s from the target audience, we concluded that the ad had not been directed at those under 18.
On that point, we investigated the ad under CAP Code rule 18.15 18.15 Marketing communications must not be directed at people under 18 through the selection of media or the context in which they appear. No medium should be used to advertise alcoholic drinks if more than 25% of its audience is under 18 years of age. (Alcohol), but did not find it in breach.
No further action necessary.