On the basis that “Man bites dog” is news, it is great to report that the year has started with a victory for common sense at the Advertising Standards Authority.
The image shown was used as a poster ad by Miller for their Peroni brand.
Only one person complained to the ASA about the advert, but that person was a member of the House of Lords. Consistent with their general practice of not naming complainants unless they are competitors, the identity of the anonymous Parliamentarian has not been revealed by the ASA. However, his complaint may have the perception of greater weight because of his status, so there is a question over the wisdom of this policy. It gives Members of Parliament the power to make complaints which appear to have greater moral authority, without having to take any responsibility for their actions.
Happily, however, the ASA maintained an even handed approach. While they accepted that the complaint should be investigated, they ultimately decided that it should not be upheld. Miller pointed out that the advert had been reviewed through its’ own internal Sales and Marketing Responsibility Committee, as well as the CAP Copy Advice team. Miller also explained that the advert did not irresponsibly link the consumption of alcohol with driving because the Fiat 500 is left hand drive and the model is sitting on the right; no driver is shown and it is clear that the car is not in motion and there is no product shot or depiction of drinking. Nor is there any implication that the model has been or is about to drink any Peroni. The ASA accepted these arguments and decided not to uphold the complaint.
So what lessons can be drawn from this investigation?
Firstly, any connection with alcohol and certain activities, such as driving or water sports, are inherently risky, however much due diligence an advertiser carries out.
Secondly, there are special interest groups and individual MP’s who will complain about almost any alcoholic beverage advertisement, so be prepared to mount a defence.
Thirdly, and more positively, this investigation and a recent detailed investigation into advertising by Heineken, which was also not upheld, suggests that provided advertisers carry out rigorous due diligence and then ensure that they provide a comprehensive and intelligent response to an ASA investigation, it is possible to successfully defend advertising in this sector.
Finally, an interesting footnote is that during the course of its’ response to the investigation, Miller said that in order to demonstrate its’ commitment to discouraging drinking and driving, it would volunteer not to use the image again. The ASA’s assessment makes no comment about that offer and states that no further action is required, so it is not entirely clear whether Miller would be free to run the advertisement again, should it wish to do so.