Summary of council decision:
Two issues were investigated, both of which were Upheld.
A Facebook ad by VK, an alcoholic beverage brand, dated 8 March 2017, featured an image of a group of young people dancing during a typical club scene. The image showed several people with their heads tilted back, drinking from bottles of VK. At the top of the image, text stated “drinkaware.co.uk for the facts”. The caption of the post stated “Here’s a #TipTuesday for ya… VK is always better with your squad” followed by two “stickout tongue” emojis.
1. The complainant, who believed the image promoted unwise drinking styles, challenged whether the ad was socially irresponsible.
2. The ASA challenged whether the image was in breach of the CAP Code because it featured people drinking alcohol who appeared to be under 25 years of age.
1. & 2. Global Brands Ltd t/a VK said that VK was predominantly drunk by students and as such, their target audience age was between 18 and 25 years. They said that the use of emojis was a reflection of how the adult audience interacted online. They provided evidence to show that 92% of online consumers used emojis when interacting online. VK stated that the image was taken in an ID controlled nightclub which was only accessible to over 18-year-olds and therefore they were confident that the image did not feature anyone under the legal drinking age. They said that their advertising on social media was strictly targeted to users over the age of 18 years and provided evidence to support that. VK said that the image was a user generated post which had been sent to them from university students. They said that the image featured a group of friends who had dressed themselves up as VK bottles and were taking a swig of their favourite drink. They argued that the bottles visible in the image were all over half full and therefore did not promote excessive drinking.
The ASA noted that six people in the image were drinking from bottles with their heads tilted far back. We considered that the tilted drinking position could be associated with the culture of “downing drinks”, particularly in context of the described “squad” group setting. We acknowledged that some of the bottles shown in the image appeared half full. We noted, however, that the person at the forefront of the image appeared to be drinking from an empty bottle and others were drinking from full bottles. We considered that the image suggested that members of the “squad” were at different stages of downing their drinks. We therefore considered that the overall impression of the image was likely to lead people to adopt styles of drinking that were unwise. We concluded that the ad breached the Code.
On that point, the ad breached CAP Code (Edition 12) 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 18.10 18.10 Marketing communications that include a promotion must not imply, condone or encourage excessive consumption of alcohol. (Alcohol).
We noted that the CAP Code required that ads for alcoholic drinks should not show people who were, or appeared to be, under 25 years of age in a significant role. We acknowledged that the image had been taken in an ID controlled nightclub. However, we noted that did not guarantee that people under 25 were not featured in the image. We noted that VK had not provided any evidence to demonstrate the age of the people in the image. We considered that several people appeared to be under 25. We considered that because they were the focus of the image, they played a significant role in the ad and therefore concluded the ad was in breach of the Code.
On that point the ad breached CAP Code (Edition 12) rule 18.16 18.16 People shown drinking or playing a significant role must neither be nor seem to be under 25. People under 25 may be shown in marketing communications, for example, in the context of family celebrations, but must be obviously not drinking. (Alcohol).
The ad must not appear again in its current form. We told VK to ensure that their ads did not encourage unwise drinking styles or feature people who looked under 25 years of age playing a significant role.