Summary of Council decision:
Four issues were investigated, of which one was Not upheld and three were Upheld.
Three ads for Black Cow vodka, seen in December 2016:
a. A press ad in the Week featured a cartoon drawing of a cow driving a sleigh and delivering gifts of Black Cow vodka. Text beneath this stated “BLACK COW pure milk vodka. So smooth you can drink it until the cows come home …”.
b. A video ad on a web page entitled “New Black Cow film from Jake Scott” on www.blackcow.co.uk featured a young man and woman walking slowly through a meadow and glancing at each other. It then showed a depression in some long grass, with text stating “Black Cow Pure Milk Vodka” superimposed over it. A bottle of the product was then shown sitting on a log in a meadow.
c. A video ad on a web page on www.blackcow.co.uk entitled “Remember this ad from 1989?” was a parody of a famous ad for milk. It featured two men who had just come in from playing football. One man opened a fridge, which contained two bottles of Black Cow vodka. The other man asked, “You got any lemonade?” and the first man handed him a bottle of lemonade. He then poured a measure of vodka into a tumbler. The other man said, “Milk? Eugh!” The man holding the vodka took a sip. “What? It’s what Ian Rush drinks.” “Ian Rush?” “Yeah, and he said if I don’t drink lots of milk, when I grow up I’ll only be good enough to play for Accrington Stanley.” He took another sip. “Accrington Stanley, who are they?” “Exactly. Now get off!” “Give me some!” “Get off.” On-screen text stated “There are times only milk will do”. Two empty bottles of Black Cow vodka were shown on the front step of a house. They were removed and replaced by three full bottles, as if being delivered by a milkman. On-screen text stated “Black Cow Pure Milk Vodka”.
1. A member of the public challenged whether ad (a) was socially irresponsible because it encouraged excessive drinking.
2. The same complainant challenged whether ad (a) was socially irresponsible because it was likely to appeal to children.
3. A member of the public challenged whether ad (b) linked alcohol with sexual activity.
4. The ASA challenged whether ad (c) encouraged consumers to adopt unwise styles of drinking and encouraged excessive drinking.
1. Pure Milk Vodka stated that their vodka was a super-premium product, not intended to be bought or consumed in excess. They said the price of £31.75 was in any case prohibitive of this. The boxes of Black Cow vodka depicted in the ad were intended to promote the idea of giving the product as a gift for a special occasion. They therefore disagreed that ad (a) encouraged excessive drinking.
2. Pure Milk Vodka stated that the style of ad (a) was in keeping with The Week’s tradition of satirical cartoons. It was intended to be a Christmas twist on a strip cartoon and was not designed to appeal to children.
Dennis Publishing Ltd (the Week) stated that they would review copy from the advertiser in future before publishing it.
3. Pure Milk Vodka stated that ad (b) was designed to advertise Black Cow vodka in line with the literary heritage of Dorset, where the product was made, by placing it in a Hardy-esque scene. They said the ad did not feature any sexual activity and instead depicted a walk in the Dorset countryside. Therefore they did not believe that the ad linked alcohol with sexual activity.
4. Pure Milk Vodka said that ad (c) was a satirical spoof of the 1989 “Accrington Stanley” advertisement, filmed shot for shot in line with the original. The number of bottles of vodka depicted emulated the number of bottles of milk shown in the original ad. They said the ad should be viewed in the context of the “super-premium” nature of their product, which was not intended to be bought or consumed in excessive amounts.
The ASA noted that ad (a) included a cartoon featuring cows delivering gifts of vodka and stated “So smooth you can drink it until the cows come home …”. We understood these were references to the product name and the fact that it was derived from milk. However, we considered that readers would likely understand “So smooth you can drink it until the cows come home …” to refer to prolonged drinking and to imply that the relative “smoothness” of Black Cow vodka meant that consumers could drink more of it. Particularly given that the product was a spirit of 40% alcohol by volume (ABV), we therefore considered that the ad encouraged excessive drinking. We concluded that the ad was socially irresponsible and breached the Code.
On this point, ad (a) breached CAP Code (Edition 12) rule 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. (Alcohol).
2. Not upheld
We acknowledged that the complainant was concerned that ad (a) featured a cartoon, which they believed was likely to appeal to children. However, we noted that it was in the style of a black-and-white comic strip, of a type that often featured in newspapers and magazines with a predominantly adult audience. The Week was a current affairs magazine that regularly featured satirical cartoons, and we considered that the style of the ad was in keeping with this. Overall, we considered that the style and content of the ad were unlikely to result in it having particular appeal for people under 18 years of age. We therefore concluded that the ad was not socially irresponsible on this point.
Ad (a) was investigated under CAP Code (Edition 12) rule 18.14 18.14 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 in a way that might encourage the young to drink. People shown drinking or playing a significant role (see rule 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. ) should not be shown behaving in an adolescent or juvenile manner. (Alcohol) but was not found in breach.
We noted that ad (b) featured a man and a woman walking through a meadow in slow motion. They turned and looked at each other in a flirtatious way. The next shot was of an area of long grass that was flattened as though people had been lying in it. While we acknowledged that the ad did not directly depict any sexual activity, we considered that viewers were likely to understand from the combination of the couple’s body language, the depression in the grass, and the overall tone of the ad, that they had just had sex. Text stating “Black Cow Vodka” and the brand logo were imposed on the image of the crushed grass, and a bottle of vodka was shown in similar surroundings. Because the ad strongly implied that sexual activity had taken place and featured an alcoholic product, we considered that it linked alcohol with sexual activity and therefore breached the Code.
Ad (b) breached CAP Code (Edition 12) rule 18.5 18.5 Marketing communications must neither link alcohol with seduction, sexual activity or sexual success nor imply that alcohol can enhance attractiveness. (Alcohol).
We acknowledged that ad (c) was a parody of the well-known “Accrington Stanley” milk ad, and this was made clear on the web page. The ad featured the same actor who had appeared in the original as a child, and replicated it shot by shot using vodka instead of milk. We noted that this was a play on the fact that Black Cow vodka was made from milk, which was also alluded to in its “gold top” packaging emulating an old-fashioned milk bottle. The man was shown coming in after playing football and looking for something to drink. Two full bottles of vodka were shown when he opened the fridge. He poured some vodka into a glass and took several sips of it in quick succession. Three more bottles of vodka were placed on the step in the final shot. While we noted that this was a literal recreation of the original ad and that some viewers would recognise the element of satire, we considered that the large quantity of vodka depicted, and the replacement of the empty bottles with full ones, was nonetheless still likely to be understood as implying and encouraging excessive drinking. We therefore concluded that the ad was socially irresponsible and breached the Code.
Ad (c) breached CAP Code (Edition 12) rule 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.
Ads (a), (b) and (c) must not appear again in the forms complained about. We told Pure Milk Vodka Ltd to ensure that their ads did not encourage excessive drinking or link alcohol to sexual activity.