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ASA ruling leaves bitter taste in Gin Society's mouth

This article was written by Sophie Roberts who joined us for a week’s work experience.

Following the discovery of ten Facebook posts from The Scottish Gin Society earlier this year, the Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) has ruled that the Society – a non-profit organisation which is not funded by any distillers or producers – breached nine advertising rules. The Facebook posts, which were seen in December 2017 and January 2018, included a variety of photos and captions alluding comically to the benefits of drinking gin. These included, for example, an image of a gin and tonic with the text ‘A banana has 150 calories a G&T has 110 calories Case closed’ this was accompanied by the caption ‘We’re all about making healthy choices’.

Following the complaint the Aberdeenshire Alcohol and Drug partnership challenged whether the adverts were irresponsible and if they complied with the code which applies to non-broadcast advertising (CAP Code). It was claimed that the ads encouraged excessive drinking, implied alcohol had therapeutic qualities and could enhance physical and mental capabilities as well as linking alcohol to sexual success. It also challenged the specific nutrition claims made in the adverts.

The Scottish Gin Society responded with the argument that they did not consider the posts as advertisements and because there was no product or service to purchase, the posts did not fall within the remit of the Code. The society also highlighted that none of the content was actually created by their company and instead it came from third-party posts. They confirmed the posts were taken down and also pointed out that the Society did not sell products and were not paid to promote their products.

However despite this, the ASA gave the assessment that because the posts were directly connected to the promotion of the Society’s membership service, and with the intention of selling gin, the posts were within the remit of the CAP Code. The ASA noted that although they understood the light-hearted and humorous intentions of the posts, they still encouraged excessive and unwise styles of drinking therefore breaching CAP Code 18.1. The ASA further ruled that the posts breached rules 15.1, 15.1.1, 15.3 and 15.6.2 regarding their references to food and that their nutrition claims that were not supported by documentary evidence. The adverts also breached rules 18.17, 18.2, 18.5 and 18.7 because they made health claims that portrayed alcohol as able to change physical condition and linked it to sexual success.

Despite acknowledging multiple times in the report the light-hearted intentions of the posts, the ASA told the Society to ensure that their future adverts did not breach CAP Code rules. The ASA also reported to have welcomed the Society’s action to remove the posts.

On a website post, the Society commented: 

“We did, and still do feel, that [these posts] should not fall under ASA remit and would also like to point out that no ‘ban’ has been enforced on us. Importantly, we see this as a warning to other social or community Facebook pages, who, following this ruling, may also be at risk of negative rulings by the ASA.
 
While we have a light-hearted and fun personality, we do not think gin has magical or medical qualities, nor would we ever condone irresponsible or unhealthy consumption. It was never our intention to upset or offend anyone.”

Ed Boal from our commercial, technology and data protection team comments:

“Unfortunately for the Scottish Gin Society, having a sense of humour does not come into play when considering whether any statements or claims fall foul of the CAP Code (the Society has confirmed it will nominate the ASA for the ‘Humour Bypass Award’ at the Scottish Gin Awards).

The more interesting question for me was whether the ASA was correct to say that it had any remit in this instance. Paragraph 2(p) of the introduction to the CAP Code provides that the Code does not apply to “marketing communications for causes and ideas in non-paid-for space, except where they contain a direct solicitation for donations as part of the marketer’s own fund-raising activities”. If the Society’s posts were made on its ‘wall’ as opposed to paid-for Facebook ads and those posts did not point Facebook users to the Society’s joining page, I would query whether the CAP Code applies at all. Some might query whether promoting Scottish gin is a ’cause’ or an ‘idea’ – but the definitions are, as stated by the ASA, very wide. This was not explored in detail in the ruling and the ASA appears to have taken the view that they did have remit because of the context in which the posts were made.”

If you require any advice regarding the compatibility of your marketing or promotional campaigns with the CAP Code, we can help.

The contents of this article are intended for general information purposes only and shall not be deemed to be, or constitute legal advice. We cannot accept responsibility for any loss as a result of acts or omissions taken in respect of this article.

Categories: Commercial | For Business | Food, Drink & Hospitality

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