A TV ad, video on demand (VOD) ad and a paid-for ad on Instagram for Macallan whisky, seen in December 2018:
a. The TV ad featured a man leaping off a cliff and tumbling towards the ground. As he fell, feathers started sprouting out of his arms and he began to grow wings. On-screen text stated "Would you risk falling ... for the chance to fly?". As he approached the ground he disappeared from view behind a mountainside and then reappeared after he had pulled out of the nosedive and started to fly upwards now that his wings were fully grown. An end-frame featured text stating "The Macallan. Make the call" which was accompanied by an image of the whisky product in a glass.
b. The VOD ad, seen on the ITV hub, was a longer version of ad (a), but featured similar imagery and on-screen text. Unlike ad (a), that ad did not feature an image of the whisky product.
c. The paid-for ad on Instagram featured a video that was identical to ad (b).
Six complainants challenged whether the ads were irresponsible and linked alcohol with daring, toughness or irresponsible behaviour.
Edrington Distillers Ltd t/a Macallan explained that the line 'Make The Call' was used globally to describe the brand's philosophy. It was used in relation to the decisions that the brand had made in its own history, and was also relevant to the audience's decisions made in their own lives. They said the ads featured a fantastical story about a man who took a big decision (i.e. made a call), found it difficult along the way, but was eventually rewarded. They believed the treatment of the story was mystical, almost mythical, and was clearly removed from the real world.
They did not believe the ads were irresponsible, or linked alcohol with bravery, daring or toughness. They asserted they were not showing anything that could happen in the real world, and pointed out the ads did not show anyone consuming alcohol. They said the fantastical winged man featured in the ads was not seen to undertake risky behaviour, or to be more adept at doing so, because he had been drinking. He was also not seen being rewarded by any alcohol after his feat. The story was simply a metaphor about making decisions.
In relation to ad (a), Clearcast explained that they had considered the daring and toughness Code rule when clearing the ad, and had decided that the treatment was fantastical enough to be acceptable. Clearcast also shared comments they had received from the agency about the content of the ad and their arguments as to why they thought it was acceptable.
In relation to ad (b), ITV believed the ad was imaginary, fanciful and dreamlike; inasmuch as it was both detached from reality and grotesque, as illustrated by the sprouting of feathers and formation of wings in the male character.
In relation to ad (c), Instagram said the ad did not violate their policies and they had not received any complaints about it.
The ASA noted that the opening scene in all versions of the ad featured the man running and jumping off a cliff, and considered that could be seen as being reminiscent of the extreme sport of base-jumping. We noted that at that point in the ads, there was no suggestion that the male character had any super-human attributes or powers, or that he was part of a mythical world; we considered the scenery featured was a typical mountainous landscape. We noted that in ads (b) and (c) the character was seen peering over the edge of the cliff and there was a close-up of him clenching his fists. We considered that gave the impression that he was nervous about jumping and was building up the courage to do so. In that context, we considered that the act of jumping off the cliff was very dangerous, potentially fatal, and consisted of extreme risk-taking behaviour. That impression was compounded by the text "Would you risk falling ... for the chance to fly?".
Whilst we acknowledged that some elements of the ad were fantastical, such as the distance the man fell through the clouds, and the sprouting of wings which enabled him to fly away instead of hitting the ground, we considered, nevertheless, that the central message of the ad, which was explicitly highlighted through the tagline "Would you risk falling ... for the chance to fly?", was one of promoting risky or daring behaviour to reap possible rewards. Although the character was not seen consuming alcohol at any point, we considered the ads made a clear association between an alcoholic product and potentially very dangerous, daring behaviour and concluded that they were irresponsible.
Ad (a) breached BCAP code rules 1.2 1.2 Advertisements must be prepared with a sense of responsibility to the audience and to society. (Social responsibility) and 19.5 19.5 Advertisements must not link alcohol with daring, toughness, aggression or unruly, irresponsible or antisocial behaviour. (Alcohol). Ads (b) and (c) breached CAP Code (Edition 12) rules 1.3 1.3 Marketing communications must be prepared with a sense of responsibility to consumers and to society. (Social responsibility) and 18.4 18.4 Drinking alcohol must not be portrayed as a challenge. Marketing communications must neither show, imply, encourage or refer to aggression or unruly, irresponsible or anti-social behaviour nor link alcohol with brave, tough or daring people or behaviour. (Alcohol).
The ads must not appear again in their current form. We told Edrington Distillers Ltd t/a Macallan to ensure in future their ads did not link alcohol with daring, toughness or irresponsible behaviour.