Summary of Council decision:
Two issues were investigated, both of which were Upheld.
An in-game ad for Mountain Dew Energy drink seen on various gaming-apps, a video sharing and a social media website, featured what appeared to be a teenager on a snowboard. The scene began with him sliding down an escalator. As he reached the bottom he grabbed a rope thrown to him by another teenager from the back of a moving underground train. He then jumped from the platform and ‘surfed’ along the tracks on the snowboard and made celebratory gestures. He then fell headfirst onto the ground. The scene then cut to ‘white noise’ with text stating “don’t Dew this at home”. The final scene showed a group of men cheering and spraying the drink over themselves. One of the men’s arms was in a cast.
1. Four complainants challenged whether the ad was harmful because it featured a young adult engaging in dangerous behaviour which could encourage emulation.
2. Three complainants challenged whether it was irresponsible as it appeared in media likely to be seen by, or have particular appeal to children.
1. PepsiCo International Ltd (Pepsi) said that the ad followed their previous advertising template which they had used in Mountain Dew advertising globally for a number of years and had been well received by consumers and had not resulted in complaints. The ad was intended to be light-hearted, tongue-in-cheek and was not intended to cause harm, offence or encourage emulation. Pepsi said that this was reinforced by the text “don’t Dew This at Home” which spelt out to viewers that it was not intended to depict a realistic scenario and strongly discouraged emulation. They said that the ad was of a “Dew Dude” who engaged in an unrealistic stunt, who was then shown goofing around with friends at the end of the ad. This reiterated to viewers that the previous scenes were tongue-in-cheek. Furthermore, as the underground scenes were not similar to those in the UK it would not be considered realistic or familiar. Pepsi also said that it was clear from comments posted on the video sharing site that viewers understood that the snowboarding scene was fake. They said the ad targeted at young adults who would understand what was make-believe and what was real.
2. Pepsi said that their policy was not to advertise directly to children and worked with their agencies to ensure children under 16 years of age were not able to view the ad. They said the ad was targeted at 16- to 24-year-olds and did not depict children, or show children in hazardous situations, behaving dangerously or in close proximity to dangerous substances or equipment. With regard to the ad appearing on gaming apps, they explained that the ad was targeted to the age of the device owner, not the genre of the app in which it appeared. As a result of the complaints, Pepsi said they increased the minimum age for the targeted demographic to 18 and prevented all children’s apps from showing the ad. They also said that in order to avoid children under 18 viewing the ad, they stopped buying further media that might show the ad to children under 18 based on the demographic of the device format.
The ASA acknowledged that the scene depicted in the ad was not a UK underground system. Despite this, we considered that the scene was a realistic one and the on-screen text was a play on the name of the product rather than a direct caution that discouraged viewers from emulating similar stunts. Whilst we appreciated that the location was not similar to UK underground systems, it was likely to be familiar due to TV programmes and films. Because of the realistic nature of the ad, its familiarity, the dangerous and reckless nature of the stunt and the celebratory actors, one of whom had clearly sustained an injury, we concluded that the ad could encourage emulation of an unsafe practice and result in harm.
On this point the ad 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 4.5 4.5 Marketing communications, especially those addressed to or depicting a child, must not condone or encourage an unsafe practice (see Section 5: Children). (Harm and offence).
We acknowledged that, after being informed of the complaints, Pepsi had taken steps to ensure the ad was not supported on apps that could be seen by under 18-year-olds. They nevertheless believed the ad clearly depicted a teenager or young adult performing the stunt, not a child. However, we noted that the style and graphics of the apps in which the ad appeared were likely to appeal to children and that it was not clear until the end of the ad whether the actors were teenagers or young adults. Pepsi said the actors were stunt men over the age of 18. However, we concluded that, because the ad was seen in media that was likely to have strong appeal to under-16s, it was irresponsible.
On this point the ad 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), 4.4, 4.5 4.5 Marketing communications, especially those addressed to or depicting a child, must not condone or encourage an unsafe practice (see Section 5: Children). (Harm and offence), 5.1 5.1 Marketing communications addressed to, targeted directly at or featuring children must contain nothing that is likely to result in their physical, mental or moral harm: and 5.1.4 5.1.4 children must not be encouraged to copy practices that might be unsafe for a child (Children).
The ad must not appear again in its current form. We told PepsiCo International Ltd not to use this ad in future.