Three electronic billboard ads for electronic cigarettes, seen in December 2016:
a. Text stated, "ALL SANTA WANTS FOR CHRISTMAS", alongside an image of Santa Claus wearing a denim jacket with the sleeves cut off. He had a tattoo on his arm saying "Rudolph", and was vaping.
b. Text stated, "ALL HE WANTS FOR CHRISTMAS", alongside an image of a gingerbread man vaping.
c. Text stated, "ALL ELVES WANT FOR CHRISTMAS", alongside an image of a Christmas elf vaping.
Three complainants challenged whether the ads likely to have particular appeal to under 18-year-olds, and were irresponsible.
Fischen Medical Ltd t/a The Vapes said the ads were not intended to appeal to people under the age of 18 and, moreover, the visual content had been purposely designed to bear no resemblance to traditional seasonal imagery, which might resonate with people under the age of 18. They said their intention had been only to reach and appeal to the spirit and culture of a target audience of adults, with an 'off the wall', fun and alternative advertising campaign. In order to achieve that, the characters had been depicted in an unconventional manner, again so as not to resemble traditional seasonal imagery, but to provide a 'twist' on the festive season which they believed would only gain recognition from an adult audience. They said the characters depicted in the campaign almost portrayed a sinister appearance, in the softest sense, which reinforced their opinion that the ads would only appeal to adults.
The publisher, Elonex Outdoor Media, acknowledged the complaint but did not provide any comments.
The CAP Code stated that marketing communications for electronic cigarettes must not be likely to appeal particularly to people under 18 years of age. They should not feature or portray real or fictitious characters who were likely to appeal particularly to people under 18.
The ASA acknowledged that The Vapes had not intended for the ads to appeal to people under 18. However, we considered that the use of cartoons or cartoon-like imagery had the potential to appeal to under-18s, and it was therefore important that they were used carefully in ads for electronic cigarette products.
All three characters were drawn in a cartoon-style, and we considered that they were child-like rather than adult in appearance. They were all characters that children would recognise, and we considered that those characters were likely to appeal to them more than they would to adults.
We noted that there were elements of ad (a) which were likely to be recognised more by adults, such as the cut-off jacket and tattoo, and which would not, in themselves, add to the appeal of the image to children. However, we did not consider that those elements would lessen the overall appeal of the image to children.
Because the images were in a style that would likely appeal to children, and because they were of characters who would be familiar to them, we considered that the ads were likely to appeal particularly to people under 18. We therefore concluded that they breached the Code.
The ads breached CAP Code (Edition 12) rules 22.1 22.1 Marketing communications for e-cigarettes must be socially responsible. and 22.9 22.9 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. People shown using e-cigarettes or playing a significant role should not be shown behaving in an adolescent or juvenile manner. (Electronic cigarettes).
The ads must not appear again in their current form. We told Fischen Medical Ltd to ensure that future ads were socially responsible and were not likely to appeal particularly to people under 18 years of age.