UK ASA: 18-24 Year Olds – Legal to Drink, Not to Advertise

Last week, the UK's advertising watchdog, the Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) banned three YouTube ads promoting the 'unspillable' nature of Cell Drink for breaching the UK's rules on responsible advertising of alcoholic beverages. One of the videos featured champion free-runner Tim Shieff jumping around and over buildings, performing back-flips and breakdancing without spilling the Cell Drink he was holding. The other two ads featured 'test subjects', one a 'rocker' and the other a 'raver', shown to spill most of their usual drinks as they moved to music; on-screen text at the end featured Cell Drink and stated "Made for dancefloors. Zero spillage." Complaints were made that the ads were irresponsible towards under-age viewers. Cell Drinks responded noting that the product was designed to be not only spill-proof but also "spike-proof", and was flexibly packaged to help avoid violent incidents in nightclubs. Cell Drinks also claimed that the ad's focus was on the comparative 'spillability' of drinks and those appearing in the ads were not shown drinking. At the time of the ad, Tim Shieff was 23 and the 'raver' was 24, so over the UK's legal drinking age of 18, but one issue raised by the complaints was that alcohol advertising in the UK must not show under-25s drinking or in prominent roles. The ASA was not swayed by Cell Drink's arguments and banned the ads, noting the various features which made them particularly appealing to under-18s, including the hip hop sound track, extensive scenes of free-running, and the humorous, mischievous aspects of the 'scientific' testing of the rocker and raver's spills. Moral: Advertisers in the UK should take particular care with promotional campaigns for alcohol beverages targeting the younger end of the market: what appeals to 18-25 year olds will often inevitably appeal to under-18s also, which can amount to a breach of advertising rules. The ASA was not moved by Cell Drinks' safe drinking ethos or by the fact that the under-25s featured were only holding, rather than consuming, alcoholic drinks. – Richard Dickinson

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