In response to complaints about an advertisement published by BrewDog Plc the ASA found that the advertisement had breached CAP code (Edition 12) rules 1.3 (Social responsibility) and 4.1 (Harm and offence) and ordered BrewDog not to run the ad again.

The development:

In October 2019 BrewDog ran an outdoor poster ad campaign featuring the words "SOBER AS A MOTHERFU" next to an image of an alcohol-free beer can with the text “BREWDOG”, “PUNK AF” and “ALCOHOL FREE IPA”. The ads were scheduled to run for two weeks across 44 poster sites, one of which was allegedly located outside a primary school.

Why is this important for retailers:

This decision acts as a reminder for retailers to plan the content and placements of their ads carefully.

Brands that wish to market their products using adult themes and/or humour on billboards or posters should always consider ad placement and factors that may influence who will be exposed to the ad, for instance whether the ad will appear in the vicinity of a school, or near areas that attract a younger demographic.

To lower the risk of causing serious or widespread offence, it is best to avoid using or alluding to expletives in media where ads are targeted to a general audience that may include children.

This is especially timely for drinks clients given the rising popularity of low and no-alcohol products (particularly during Dry January…).

Another practical step for retailers to consider is to ensure that out-of-home media owners are under clear obligations to:

  • comply with the CAP code (generally) in handling the retailer's account;
  • provide all reasonable assistance in responding to any regulatory matters (ie including ASA complaints). This might include collecting / providing data (as needed) relating to the placement of ads, for example: (a) to show the distance between the ad and the closest school, or (b) providing statistics on the demographic of the local population, based on their audience data; and
  • take down ads as soon as reasonably practicable (and no later than 24/48 hours) after the media owner is made aware of any complaints.

Digging deeper:

When responding to the ASA, BrewDog stated that:

  1. The advertisement was not designed to cause offence because it did not contain profanity, therefore, it was not inappropriate to display the advertisement where it could be seen by children. They believed that as no profanity or offensive language was used, they could not see how any offence caused could be construed as 'serious'.
  2. The ad was for an alcohol-free product and was designed to be 'eye-catching' and considered it promoted being sober.
  3. They also commented that they did not believe 26 complaints was indicative of 'widespread' offence.

After considering BrewDog's (and UKBillboards') responses the ASA upheld the complaint. The ASA concluded that whilst the word was not displayed in its entirety, older children and adults would understand "MOTHERFU" was simply a shortened version of "mother******". The ASA concluded that the advertisement was likely to cause serious and widespread offence, and was not appropriate to be put on display where it could be seen by children.