An ad on Strongbow's YouTube channel portrayed a spoof awards ceremony with a winning category called "Best Strongbow as my other half". The ad opened with a drum roll and the winner was announced as being "Carl Guyenette". It featured a Facebook picture of Carl, holding a can of Strongbow in front of his face, and that was accompanied by a round of applause. The "presenter" said "Carl couldn't make it here tonight because he's on a date. Well good luck Carl. I'm here on his behalf to accept the award for Best Strongbow as my other half. Here are some words from our winner". The "presenter", impersonating Carl's voice and apparently quoting Carl from a sheet of paper, said, "I dedicate this award to my family, to all the lovely creatures out there, and to my other half. I love you. I've loved you since the first day I met ya. And I always will do. My dear Strongbow." The "presenter", assumed his normal voice and said, "Thank you Carl. Good luck with your date."
Youth Alcohol Advertising Council (YAAC), supported by Alcohol Concern, challenged whether the ad portrayed alcohol as indispensable or as taking priority in life.
Heineken UK Ltd explained that the ad was part of a previous campaign of a series of ads posted on YouTube that featured the "Strongbow Awards"; a satirical parody of awards ceremonies which celebrated consumers' "Bowtime", following selected Facebook nominations from fans. They said this had been the only complaint they had received about the campaign and they had now removed the series of ads from their YouTube channel.
Heineken believed the style, language and actions of the actor signalled that this was obviously a parody of real-life, high profile award ceremonies. They explained it was designed to make fun of actual awards ceremonies using fake grandeur and amusing acceptance speeches, but delivered in a satirical tone of voice. In the style of that parody, the character 'Carl' was demonstrating how much he loved his favourite cider.
Heineken said the reference to Strongbow as Carl's other half was a tongue-in-cheek reference and Carl was being self-deprecating. His words, spoken by an actor, mimicked the style of an award ceremony where his other half was one of a list of people he would like to thank. They pointed out that in the ad, Carl was pictured with just one can of Strongbow and the ad contained no references to him drinking more, how much he drank generally or whether he did so on a solitary basis. In the ad, Carl was seen expressing his love of Strongbow cider, which he became a fan of when he first tasted it. They said to use "love" in the context of a favourite food, product or service was commonplace.
They believed nothing in the ad suggested Carl was a regular, solitary drinker, that alcohol was a priority in his life or that he used alcohol to relieve boredom or other problems. They pointed out that in his acceptance speech "his other half" came third in his list of dedications, following his family and "all the lovely creatures out there". Heineken believed it was clear to viewers that Carl was using parody to show how much he loved Strongbow and they said it was unrealistic to infer from it that he believed Strongbow (or alcohol consumption) was indispensable.
In response to YAAC's concern that the ad implied Carl was not at the awards ceremony because he was drinking instead, Heineken said that none of the 'winner's' of the Strongbow Awards appeared in any of the ads in the campaign. They said the phrase "Carl cannot be here today ..." was typically heard at awards ceremonies and formed part of the satire. They pointed out the presenter stated, "Carl is on a date". They accepted that in line with the parody, the inference could be that Carl was consuming Strongbow instead of being at the ceremony, but believed that did not imply that Strongbow (or the consumption of alcohol) was a necessity or priority in life. They pointed out that the viewer was told nothing further about Carl's date.
Heineken strongly believed it was clear to viewers that the ad was a parody of award ceremonies and that it could not be reasonably inferred from the ad that acohol consumption took priority in life and/or was indispensable. They felt the Code did allow reasonable expression by consumers of their love of or passion for a favourite alcoholic drink, in a humorous way, providing it did not breach rule 18.6.
The ASA noted the CAP Code required that marketing communications must not imply that alcohol might be indispensable or take priority in life.
We noted the ad was intended to be humorous and was in the style of a parody of awards ceremonies. We noted Strongbow was referred to throughout the ad as Carl's "other half" and considered that implied Strongbow was as important to Carl as a significant relationship with another person. We also noted the ad referred to Carl being in love with Strongbow and considered that also indicated Carl's relationship with Strongbow was as important as a significant romantic relationship. We considered that where the presenter stated Carl was on a date, viewers were likely to infer from this either that Carl was not at the awards ceremony because he was with Strongbow or that, judging from the presenter's tone of voice, expression and where he stated "… good luck with your date", which indicated a level of scepticism, the date was unlikely to go well because Carl was already committed to his relationship with Strongbow.
For those reasons, we considered the ad implied that alcohol was as important as, if not more important than, personal relationships and therefore was portrayed as being indispensable and taking priority in life. We concluded that the ad breached the Code and we welcomed Heineken's confirmation that it had already been removed.
The ad breached CAP Code (Edition 12) rule 18.6 18.6 Marketing communications must not imply that alcohol might be indispensable or take priority in life or that drinking alcohol can overcome boredom, loneliness or other problems. (Alcohol).
The ad must not appear again in its current form. We told Heineken UK Ltd not to imply in future ads that alcohol might be indispensable or take priority in life.