The ASA has dismissed a complaint made against Diageo Great Britain Ltd t/a Johnnie Walker, that its whisky ad was irresponsible for encouraging immoderate drinking.

The claim

A TV ad, seen on 25 November 2020, began with a scene showing a bottle of Johnnie Walker Black Label Whisky and a tumbler just over halfway full with what appeared to be whisky, ice and an orange peel. A hand grabbed the tumbler and the next scene showed a close-up of a woman taking a long, slow sip from it. On-screen text stated: “EVERY SIP A STORY”, while a voiceover stated, “It’s taste that makes an entrance, makes ice wish it lasted longer.”

The ad ended with the woman sipping slowly from the tumbler followed by a close-up shot of her holding onto the tumbler, which was again just over half full of whisky and ice. On-screen text stated: “JOHNNIE WALKER” and “drinkaware.co.uk for the facts” alongside the Johnnie Walker logo.

Complaint

The complainant, who believed the glass contained a large amount of neat alcohol and that the woman was drinking from it at length, challenged whether the ad was irresponsible because it encouraged immoderate drinking.

Diageo’s response

Diageo said that the drink shown in the ad was a 50 ml serving, which was a standard alcohol measure not generally considered to be an excessive quantity to consume in one evening. The whisky was served on the rocks over five large ice cubes with an orange peel garnish in the tumbler. The size of the ice cubes and orange peel garnish displaced the liquid and elevated it to just over the halfway point.

The whisky was served in a lowball tumbler and its size was relative to the woman’s hand which made it clear to viewers that it was a short glass with a small capacity. Johnnie Walker said that the woman was shown to slowly savour the taste of one sip of the drink and did not appear to be intoxicated or to consume alcohol rapidly in an irresponsible manner.

The ASA’s ruling

The ASA did not uphold the complaint.

They noted that the tumbler in the ad was thick-rimmed with a solid base and just over halfway full with whisky, several large ice cubes and a piece of orange garnish. Given their design and shape, the ASA understood that it was not uncommon for whisky tumblers to reach over halfway full if they contained a large amount of ice.

Referring to the UK Chief Medical Officer’s Low Risk Drinking Guidelines, the ASA did not consider that the glass contained a large amount of alcohol that was disproportionate to the recommended limit in one sitting or the usual serving style of whisky over ice.

The ad showed the woman taking a long, slow sip from the glass, which was just over halfway full. This scene was briefly inter-cut with others, before returning again to the woman who continued to sip slowly from the glass.

While the ASA recognised that some viewers might consider that the long, slow sip inter-cut with other scenes implied that she had been drinking from the glass for a period of time, the glass still appeared to be just over halfway full after it was placed on the table and there was no further suggestion in the ad that she was drinking the whisky too quickly or that more than one drink was being consumed. The ASA therefore concluded that the ad did not imply, condone, or encourage irresponsible or immoderate drinking and had not breached the Code.

Comment

There were several points in this decision where the ASA could have sided with the advertiser, including on the impression given by a glass more than half full of whisky, and of the cut-away and return to the whisky glass, which might have given the impression that the glass had been refilled. Advertisers will be reassured that the ASA sided with Diageo on these points, and rejected the complaint, because an upheld complaint could have had significant ramifications. A 50ml serving of a 40% abv spirit contains less alcohol than a pint of 4% abv beer, so a decision that this ad was irresponsible could have opened the way to a significant further limitation to showing drinks in alcohol ads.

The ruling is also a helpful reminder that a standard UK measure should be applied in ads for spirits, and alcohol should not be poured unmeasured into a glass or be shown with multiple servings.

Co-authored by Stuart Helmer and Aysha Kaplankiran.