The advertised product contained hemp and CBD which the ASA understood might, in certain forms and under certain circumstances, be allowed by legislation to be included in foods and drinks. This investigation focused only on whether the ads in question were socially responsible.
Summary of Council decision:
Three issues were investigated, two of which were Upheld and one Not upheld.
Two Instagram posts and an ad seen in the trade magazine Scottish Licensed Trade News, for Dead Man’s Fingers Hemp Rum:
a. The first Instagram post, from 2 July 2019, included text which stated “HEMP RUM, COMING TO A JOINT NEAR YOU” and an image of the product’s bottle which stated “HEMP RUM” on the label. In the background of the ad there was an image of a skull wearing a hat with a cannabis leaf print. The post’s caption included text which stated “Our classic Caribbean rum infused with natural Hemp and CBD”, “Delicious mixed with coke or ginger ale – serve chilled, man. Coming to a joint near you. #deadmansfingershemp”.
b. The second Instagram post, from 2 July 2019, showed a photograph of an outdoor ad which stated “WARNING: OUR HEMP RUM MIGHT CAUSE THE MUNCHIES” and an image of the product product’s bottle which stated “HEMP RUM” on the label. In the background of the outdoor ad there was an image of a skull which was smoking and wearing a hat with a cannabis leaf print. The post’s caption included text which stated “So, now you know – our new rum – Dead Man’s Fingers Hemp. It will quite literally blow your mind”.
c. The trade magazine ad, seen July 2019, included text which stated “DEALERS WANTED” and featured a bottle of the product which showed the product’s name “DEAD MAN’S FINGERS” and “HEMP RUM”. Additional text described the product, including “Dead Man’s Fingers has crafted a version of their classic Caribbean rum infused with natural hemp and CBD” and “Mixed with coke or ginger ale, it’s delicious, unexpected and always chilled, man”.
The Scottish Government’s Alcohol Harm Prevention Team challenged whether:
1. ads (a), (b) and (c) linked alcohol to illicit drugs;
2. ads (a), (b) and (c) were likely to appeal particularly to people under 18; and
3. the claim “It will quite literally blow your mind” in ad (b) portrayed alcohol as capable of changing mood.
1. Halewood International t/a The Cornish Rum Company Ltd said that they adopted commonly used slang words in their ads but they did not believe that linked their product to cannabis. They said “joint” was a slang term for a place or establishment and was used in ad (a) to refer to a local bar, pub or retail outlet where consumers could purchase Dead Man’s Fingers rum. They said “munchies” in ad (b) was a slang term for hunger generally and was used in the context that consumption of alcohol caused people to feel hungry. They said “dealers” in ad (c) was used as a slang term for someone who bought or sold any goods or products. In the context of ad (c), where the ad was seen in a trade press publication, they said it was used to attract trade customers to sell their product.
The Cornish Rum Company said the leaves seen in ads (a) and (b) were a commonly used depiction of the cannabis sativa plant from which the ingredients of cannabidiol (CBD) and hemp seeds derived. They said that the ads’ content was reflective of ingredients in the product.
2. The Cornish Rum Company did not believe that the ads were likely to appeal to particularly to those under 18 years of age. They said the colour, content and imagery in the ads were adult in tone and nature. In relation to targeting of ads (a) and (b), The Cornish Rum Company said that they specified on their Instagram account that “You must be of legal drinking age to follow us”. They therefore said advertising on their Instagram account was targeted to those who had elected to follow their brand, who would therefore understand it was an alcohol brand. They said ad (c) was seen in a trade publication and was therefore not targeted at an under-18 audience. They said it was targeted at a commercial audience and not consumers generally.
3. The Cornish Rum Company said the phrase “blow your mind” was a common slang term for describing what someone felt when they experienced something new and exciting. They said that although they included the word “literally”, they did not believe that this would be interpreted as an indication that their product would cause a physical or mental reaction in someone’s body. They said they used this phrase to explain the experience of trying a new flavour and that the ad only suggested enjoyment of a new alcoholic beverage. They did not believe the CAP Code prevented ads from referencing consumers’ enjoyment of an alcoholic drink and they did not believe the Code classified enjoyment as ‘changing mood’.
The CAP Code did not allow alcohol ads to link alcohol to illicit drugs. The ads included references to the product containing hemp (in ads (a), (b) and (c)) and CBD (in ads (a) and (c)) and we considered that simple factual statements about that content would not necessarily be considered irresponsible. However, those who saw the ads would generally be aware that hemp and CBD were derived from the cannabis plant and in that context we considered that the advertiser must take particular care to ensure that any imagery and wording which accompanied factual statements about the hemp and CBD content of the product did not link alcohol to cannabis.
All three ads featured a black background with neon green and pink text in a hand-painted style font, which we considered gave them a subversive feel. Ads (a) and (b) each featured a skull wearing a hat which had cannabis leaves printed on it. The skull in ad (b) was also smoking a cigarette, and, because of the cigarette’s shape, we considered it would be understood by consumers to contain cannabis. In the context of each ad, we considered the reference to “a joint” in ad (a) would be interpreted as a cannabis containing cigarette and “munchies” in ad (b) as a reference to a slang term for the hunger felt after smoking cannabis. We further considered that in the overall context of the ads, the wording “chilled, man” in the text “Delicious mixed with coke or ginger ale – serve chilled, man” in ad (a) and “Mixed with coke or ginger ale, it’s delicious, unexpected and always chilled, man” in ad (c) would be understood as a slang reference to the mental or physical effect of using cannabis. In relation to ad (c), we acknowledged that a ‘dealer’ could be defined as someone generally speaking who bought or sold goods. However, we considered that in the context of the generally subversive feel of the ad and the wording “chilled, man” the text “DEALERS WANTED” would be understood as a reference to drug dealers.
We concluded that because the ads featured imagery and wording associated with the illicit drug cannabis, the ads linked alcohol to illicit drugs and therefore breached the Code.
On that point, ads (a), (b) and (c) breached CAP Code (Edition 12) rule 18.8 (Alcohol).
2. Not upheld
The CAP Code stated that alcohol ads must not be likely to appeal particularly to people under 18, especially by reflecting or being associated with youth culture. Therefore, alcohol ads could not appeal more to under-18s than they did to over-18s. Each of the ads featured a purple coloured bottle of Dead Man’s Fingers Hemp Rum on a plain black background with green and pink text. Ads (a) and (b) featured imagery of a graphic style skull wearing sunglasses and a cannabis leaf patterned hat. In ad (b) the skull image was also seen smoking. We considered these were not references associated with youth culture and that overall the colours and imagery used gave each of the ads an adult tone. We considered the language in the ads would be understood by a proportion of under-18s as drug references. However, we did not consider this would result in the ads appealing more to them than they did to over-18s, particularly given the ads’ overall tone.
We concluded that the ads were not likely to appeal particularly to under-18s and that they did not breach the Code in that respect.
On that point, we investigated ads (a), (b) and (c) under CAP Code (Edition 12) rule 18.14 (Alcohol) but did not find them in breach.
The CAP Code stated that alcohol ads must not imply that alcohol had therapeutic qualities. Alcohol could not be portrayed as capable of changing mood, physical condition or behaviour or as a source of nourishment We acknowledged that “blow your mind” could be understood as a term meaning to impress strongly. However, in the context of what we considered to be references to drugs, we considered the phrase “it will quite literally blow your mind” would also be understood as an indication that the product would change someone’s behaviour or mood in the same way as cannabis. Therefore, because ad (b) implied alcohol was capable of changing mood, we concluded it breached the Code.
On that point, ad (b) breached CAP Code (Edition 12) rule 18.7 (Alcohol).
The ads must not appear again in their current form. We told Halewood International t/a The Cornish Rum Company Ltd to ensure in future that their ads did not link alcohol to illicit drugs and that they did not imply alcohol was capable of changing mood.