ASA raps drinks industry over under-age ad breach

The Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) has fired a warning shot across the bows of the alcohol industry after ruling that two campaigns promoting alcoholic drinks can never be shown again because they appealed to under-age drinkers.

The ASA has ruled that campaigns for Diageo-owned Smirnoff Ice and WKD, the flavoured alcoholic beverage owned by Beverage Brands, both breached rules on alcohol advertising on television, which came into force on January 1, 2005.

Diageo has been told it is not allowed to use its Uri and Gorb characters – two chilled-out Eastern European men – as they appeal too much to under-age drinkers. It is appealing against the decision.

Diageo Great Britain marketing director Philip Almond says: “If this were applied across all alcoholic drinks advertising, it would have a significant impact.”

Beverage Brands was rapped for two ads for WKD. The ASA ruled that both had used juvenile humour and “employed themes that are either associated with youth culture or likely to appeal strongly to adolescents”.

The Broadcast Committee on Advertising Practice, the ad industry body responsible for creating the code of practice and monitoring potential infringement, referred both campaigns to the ASA.

Diageo is planning to refer the ruling to independent reviewer Sir John Caines. Almond says: “We think the judgment is wrong. We went through all the hoops including pre-clearance from all the authorities.”

He adds that the Uri and Gorb campaign finished last December in the UK and there are no plans to revive it.

The ruling applies to TV ads only, but industry insiders believe that the regulator would almost certainly ban the characters’ use in any other form of marketing which it has jurisdiction over, including radio, press and poster ads, sales promotion and direct marketing.

Diageo recently moved the Smirnoff Ice account out of Bartle Bogle Hegarty, which created the ad, into JWT. Almond says the decision has nothing to do with the ASA investigation.

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