ASA upholds three complaints against Hi-Spirits Fireball Whisky brand

By Michelle Perrett

- Last updated on GMT

The Advertising Standards Authority has upheld three complaints against Hi Spirits and its Fireball Whisky brand.

The complaint was about adverts and status updates on its Facebook page.

The Facebook page for Fireball Whisky showed various ads:

a. showed a young woman pouring alcohol from two bottles. Text stated “How many bottles would you need to last the whole night?”;

b. showed a young man lying face down on a bed;

c. was a poster in the style of “Keep Calm and Carry On”. Text stated “TAKE A SHOT AND IGNITE THE NITE”. A caption stated “Like if you think this is a good plan for the weekend!”;

d. was a status update. Text stated “What are your Fireball stories from the weekend (or any weekend)? Best ones win Fireball freebies!” Responses were posted underneath and included comments such as “Last week went to Las Vegas and saw guns n roses play for 3 and a half hours. Thanks to the bottle of fireball I had beforehand I only remember the first 7 songs”; “HAD FIREBALL + APPLE J AND SPEWED IN A BUSH. FREEBIE?” and “Went back to the bar so many times for some Fireball and Apple Juice the guy sold me the bottle so I could have it at my table instead. Fair to say, my memory is hazy. Woke up hugging said bottle, and my shoes in the shower”;

e. showed three young women drinking alcohol;

f. showed four teddy bears on a bed with the advertiser’s logo; and

g. was a status update. Text stated “DEAR STUDENTS - Exams and coursework getting you down? Like this status and tell us why we should send you some Fireball and freebies to keep you going!”

The ASA investigated after a complaint was made by the Youth Alcohol Advertising Council (YAAC). It challenged various adverts that were shown on the Fireball Facebook page claiming a number of them were socially irresponsible because they promoted excessive drinking (a), (b),(c), (d), breached the CAP code because those in the adverts appeared to be under 25 (e), was likely to appeal to under 18s (f) and suggested that the product was capable of changing mood and enhancing mental capabilities (g).  

Hi Spirits said advert (c) referred to one shot which they believe equated to significantly less than one unit of alcohol. Because of that, they did not believe the ad promoted excessive drinking.

It also said the text: “What are your Fireball stories from the weekend (or any weekend)? Best ones win Fireball freebies!” in ad (d) asked for stories which involved Fireball to be shared but they did not believe it suggested an excessive amount of alcohol must be drunk.

In regards to its Facebook page Fireball said a user needed to be over 18 years old to follow their Facebook page. It said the only way to circumvent that was for a user to enter an incorrect date of birth on their Facebook profile. The company said they continually monitored their users to ensure  followers were over 18 and had removed users in the past where there was doubt that they met that requirement. For those reasons, they did not believe that the ad was likely to appeal to people under 18.

However, Fireball did not comment on the complaints that its product suggested it was capable of changing mood and enhancing mental capabilities (g) or that (e) breached the code because the people shown appeared to be under 25.

Fireball said it was concerned that ads (b), (c), (d), (e) and (f) were posts that had been uploaded by Facebook users and that for Fireball to remove them would be tantamount to censorship and against the fundamental right to freedom of speech. Regardless of that, however, they said they had removed all the ads that were the subject of the investigation until the ASA Council had made their decision on whether or not they were in breach of the CAP Code.

The ASA upheld complaints in relation to ads (a), (b) and (d).

The ASA said ad (a), which showed a woman holding bottles upside down to pour what appeared to be spirits into large glasses, with a casual approach. It considered the image showed alcohol being handled irresponsibly and that an abundance of alcohol was available to be consumed. The ASA also considered ad (b) glorified the idea that the man had consumed a large amount of alcohol and was intoxicated and concluded that this breached the Code.

The text “What are your Fireball stories from the weekend (or any weekend)? Best ones win Fireball freebies” in ad (d) had resulted in respondents referring to situations which had involved excessive drinking. The ASA said it considered that, while the request for “Fireball stories” would not necessarily be associated with excessive drinking and the rest of the question made no direct reference to excessive drinking, the responses glorified the idea that people had consumed large amounts of alcohol and had become intoxicated.

However, it did not uphold the complaint with in ad (c) suggested that the consumption of alcohol could be part of a sociable evening but that the text “TAKE A [singular] SHOT ...” did not necessarily suggest the consumption of excessive alcohol or multiple drinks.

The ASA said that Fireball had supplied no evidence that showed the people featured in ad (e) were above the age of 25 so decided this broke the code. 

The CAP Code stated that marketing communications must not imply that alcohol can enhance mental or physical capabilities. The ASA considered the text “DEAR STUDENTS - Exams and coursework getting you down? Like this status and tell us why we should send you some Fireball and freebies to keep you going!” suggested Fireball would have a positive effect on the recipients’ mental and/or physical abilities. It therefore ruled that it broke the code.

The ASA acknowledged that Fireball had an age-gate mechanism in place for their Facebook page so concluded that ad (f) did not breach the Code.

Hi-Spirits response:

Jeremy Hill, chairman of Hi-Spirits, UK distributor of Fireball, said: “We are obviously disappointed that the ASA has upheld three out of the four complaints made.  The social media pages for Fireball are intended to build brand loyalty and create a sense of community for customers who enjoy the product responsibly, not to encourage excessive drinking. The majority of the complaints related to photographs and statuses posted by users to our Fireball Facebook page. We will continue to do everything possible to ensure all our brands’ social media complies with the requirements of the ASA code.”

Related topics: Spirits & Cocktails

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