UK ASA: Do Drinking and Humor Mix? Yes, but…

Last week the UK's advertising watchdog, the Advertising Standards Authority (ASA), cleared a TV ad by supermarket chain Aldi Stores Ltd despite numerous complaints about its light-hearted portrayal of alcohol consumption. The ad featured an elderly woman sitting at a table and speaking of how her husband likes both a popular brand of tea bags and Aldi's own brand tea bags. At the end of the ad, the woman states "I don't like tea; I like gin", and picks up a glass and drinks from it. Complainants writing in to the ASA felt that the ad encouraged irresponsible drinking and implied that gin was a suitable substitute for non-alcoholic drinks; some, including doctors, complained that the ad offensively made light of alcoholism, and was inappropriate for day-time broadcasts. Aldi defended its advert saying that the ad was intended to be humorous and not to suggest gin as a substitute for tea. It also pointed out that underage viewers could be put off by the ad's unglamorous portrayal of alcohol consumption by an older person. Clearcast, the UK's industry body that pre-clears most TV ads, had approved the ad without any scheduling restrictions and said it considered that it was acceptable to show adults drinking responsibly; it said there was no indication that the woman in the ad was intoxicated or a heavy drinker. The ASA agreed with Aldi and Clearcast; it found that there was no suggestion the woman was an alcoholic, and that the ad simply stated, humorously, one adult's preference for gin over tea. The ad was not in breach of rules concerning harm and offence, alcohol advertising or scheduling. This Aldi adjudication follows a recent ban on adverts for Cell Drinks featuring under-25s holding, but not consuming, alcoholic beverages; that Cell Drinks ban was based partly on the humorous, but mischievous nature of the Cell Drinks ad, which was deemed to appeal to underage viewers. It is clear that the focus of the ASA's concern is not whether ads for or featuring alcoholic beverages are funny or light-hearted, but rather on whether the humour might encourage unhealthy, unsafe or illegal behaviours, such as excessive or underage drinking. – Richard Dickinson

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