The U.K. Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) recently upheld three out of four complaints brought by the Youth Alcohol Advertising Council (YAAC) against Fireball Whiskey distributor Hi Spirits Ltd. over social media advertisements that allegedly promoted excessive drinking. In particular, the complaints focused on Fireball Whiskey’s Facebook page, which, in addition to advertisements depicting young women pouring or consuming alcohol, a young man “lying face down on a bed” and teddy bears branded with the whiskey’s logo, apparently featured (i) “a poster in style of ‘Keep Calm and Carry On’” with the tagline “TAKE A SHOT AND IGNITE THE NITE” and a caption asking users to “Like if you think this is a good plan for the weekend!”; (ii) a status update asking users to submit their “Fireball stories from the weekend” to win “Fireball freebies!”; and (iii) a status update asking students undergoing final exams to “Like this status and tell us why we should send you some Fireball and freebies to keep you going!”
YAAC argued that these ads and status updates not only promoted excessive drinking and, in some cases, “were likely to appeal to people under age 18,” but also appeared to show people younger than age 25 consuming alcohol while suggesting “that the product was capable of changing mood and enhancing mental capabilities.” Although Fireball agreed to remove the advertisements in question until ASA had completed its adjudication, it confirmed that users must be 18 years old to follow Fireball Whiskey’s Facebook page and expressed concern that removing posts and status updates uploaded by followers “would be tantamount to censorship and against the fundamental right to freedom of speech.”
In upholding three complaints, ASA ruled that user responses to the advertisement asking, “What are your Fireball stories from the weekend (or any weekend)?,” “had been adopted by Fireball” and ultimately “fell within the remit of the CAP Code,” which requires “marketing communications to be socially responsible and contain nothing that was likely to lead people to adopt styles of drinking that were unwise or encourage excessive drinking.” As a result of this interpretation, the agency held that this status update and the responses to its solicitation, as well as the advertisements showing a women pouring Fireball Whiskey into large glasses (“i.e. not shot glasses”) and a man who seemed to be intoxicated, “glorified” the idea of excessive alcohol consumption. ASA also concurred with YAAC that one of the ads appeared to show people younger than age 25 consuming alcohol and that the status updates directed at students “suggested Fireball would have a positive effect on the recipients’ mental and/or physical capabilities.” But because Fireball had “an age-gate mechanism in place” for its Facebook page, ASA dismissed the complaint against the teddy bear advertisement as “unlikely to have a particular appeal for people under 18.”
Meanwhile, ASA has also upheld 10 complaints against a Kosher, organic milk supplier whose Internet page allegedly made unsubstantiated claims about the quality of its products and production methods. Dismissing HaLove’s contention that “the differences between organic and non-organic dairy farming were generally known,” the agency ruled that the following statements could not be substantiated and thus were misleading: (i) “None of [the cows] suffer from mastitis”; (ii) “the milk is healthier than standard milk”; and (iii) “Emma’s Dairy has one of the lowest bacteria count [sic] in England according to the FSA monitor!.” In addition, with the exception of two statements concerning the use of genetically modified feed and pesticides on non-organic farms, ASA agreed with the complainant’s assertion that the remainder of the claims “misleadingly implied that antibiotics, milk producing hormones and the abortion of calves were routinely used and carried out in dairy production” and “that dairy cows generally experienced oversized udders and artificially increased body weight.” ASA has thus directed HaLove to remove these statements from its Website in the absence of proper substantiation.