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ASA rulings summary, 28 February 2024 - assuaging alcohol, 'rustic' bread and unfair competitions

This week we discuss: irresponsible alcohol claims; how the ASA will assess terms such as ‘artisanal-inspired’ and ‘rustic’; and provide a reminder on the pitfalls of running prize promotions on social media. 

Can you claim alcohol soothes parenthood stress, relieves boredom and/or makes driving games more fun?

What was complained about? Three ads featuring alcohol were investigated this week. The first ad, for a sofa manufacturer, was alleged to have irresponsibly “suggested that alcohol had therapeutic qualities to assuage the strains of parenthood” with parents exclaiming "buying this new sofa from and having money left in the bank for parenting essentials [while pouring wine] is nicer”.  The second ad for bourbon whisky featured a group of friends drinking with large text stating “Shorter days mean we can skip to the good part” which prompted complaints that it promoted adopting drinking styles that were unwise, implied that alcohol might take priority in life, and implied that drinking alcohol could overcome boredom by encouraging people to start drinking earlier in the day. The third ad featured an image of a man driving in a racing simulator, with text on the image stating “DRINK DRIVER PACKAGE” was claimed to trivialise and encouraged drink driving.

What was the ruling? 1 Not Upheld/2 Upheld. The ASA did not find the first ad to be irresponsible (it is unknown if the relevant ASA adjudicators are parents themselves) as they felt the ad was humorous and light-hearted in tone, did not show the parents actually consuming alcohol and did not therefore suggest that alcohol was an indispensable therapeutic crutch for parents (even if some readers may find it to be so). The ASA did find that the other two ads were irresponsible. Reference to “good parts” reinforced the impression that drinking alcohol was the most enjoyable part of the day (and something to rush to to alleviate boredom) which was not mitigated by “drink responsibly” messaging. The ASA held that, despite being for a video game, the third ad made a clear link between alcohol and driving (it not being clear that there was no real life driving) and therefore was irresponsible.

What are the ramifications? While linking alcohol with an activity in which drinking would be unsafe or unwise, and/or promoting to adopt drinking styles which are unwise is irresponsible, including references to alcohol is possible provided the tone is correctly weighted against suggesting perceived benefits of consumption. 

Hovis’s Rustic Bread: A slice of truth? – The ASA assesses claims of authenticity

What was complained about? Hovis made three distinct posts on their website, one for each loaf of bread sold, claiming that their Bloomer loafs were “authentic” and created by expert bakers without artificial preservatives. Hovis also posted a video of influencer Sevda Cataltas making a sandwich using Hovis Rustic Seeded Bloomer bread and making similar claims, describing the bread as “rustic” and “artisanal-inspired”. The Real Bread Campaign (Sustain), who understood the bread was produced using automated industrial techniques, and that it included artificial preservatives, challenged whether the claims were misleading.

What was the ruling? Not Upheld. The ASA noted that the ads included the terms “rustic” when referring to the product names and “traditional” when referring to the starter dough that was used in the products for “more flavour”.  Therefore, since those terms could have been used to describe the shape, recipe and finish of the bread, the ASA did not consider the claim to be misleading. The ASA also explained that consumers would have not understood the posts to mean that all Hovis bread had “no artificial preservatives.” Instead, it was reasonable for consumers to appreciate that since the bread is being produced on an industrial scale, that some preservatives would have been added.

What are the ramifications? Terminology in ads will not necessarily be interpreted by the ASA in a strictly literal sense, but instead as perceived by typical consumers. Advertisers should still tread carefully and ensure when making any similar claims that they do not implicitly or expressly go beyond what can be can substantiated (as identifying what consumers would understand can be difficult to those in the industry - as Virgin discovered in December). 

Social media prize promotion pitfalls

What was complained about? A cosmetics brand ran a competition linked to an Instagram post which featured the caption "A COMPETITION YOU’LL WANT TO ENTER! WIN [our] Beauty Advent Calendar […] to enter all you need to do is Follow… Comment 🎁; Tag 3 Friends; Get 0 Likes on your comment; Share to your stories for TWO bonus entries” and it the ASA assessed if the: (i) the prize was awarded in accordance with the laws of chance; (ii) promotion was administered fairly; and/or (iii) the ad omitted significant conditions of the promotion.

What was the ruling? Upheld. While the ASA concluded that the brand's use of online software generating a verifiably random result, they could not provide evidence that all valid entries had been included in the draw and had not ensured that there were terms to prevent the ‘zero likes’ element of the promotion from being abused (entrants could ‘like’ another entrants comment to disqualify it). The post did not state the start or closing time nor that entrants could make more than one entry into the draw by posting more than one comment, all of these were held to be significant conditions (which were likely to affect entrants' understanding of the promotion). 

What are the ramifications? Advertisers should remember that disgruntled entrants are likely to complain and ‘quick and easy’ promotions on social can cause headaches if not run properly. We've set out a quick series of questions advertisers running random prize draws on social media should ask themselves before their post goes live - 

  • Have you set out all significant terms (e.g. competition dates, age restrictions, entry requirements etc.) and linked your T&Cs in the post (and subsequent posts)? 
  • Is it clear to entrants how to enter and are you able to see and track all entries accurately (e.g. liking a post, tagging a friend, subscribing, posting on their own channels)?
  • Are you able to ensure the promotional T&Cs (including competition dates) do not change (unless there's exceptional circumstances)?
  • Are you able to contact winners more than once and have you made sure the T&Cs state that entrants must be able to receive DMs?
  • Are you able to evidence that the winners were selected at random?
  • Are the conditions and requirements for a winner to receive their prize clear and is the prize clearly and accurately described so as not to unnecessarily disappoint? 
  • Have you checked that you can supply the prize as described, or if not, if you can provide an alternative of equal value?
  • Have you asked the entrants which details of theirs you can publish if they are announced as a winner (in a data privacy law compliant manner)?
  • Does your promotion have measures in place to ensure it is not open to abuse? 
  • If the promotion features IP protected content (e.g. photos) are you getting the correct rights to use these (should you intend to do so) and are you confident the content is not infringing any rights (including IP or data privacy rights) of third-parties?
  • Are you dealing with participants fairly (including estimating likely volumes of participants and whether you are equipped to accordingly administer the competition)? 
  • Have you checked for compliance with applicable policies of the platform (e.g. Instagram's Promotion Guidelines includes a requirement for a complete release of Instagram by each entrant or participant, prohibits inaccurate tagging of content or encouraging users to inaccurately tag content etc.)? 


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