The Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) received 26 complaints against an outdoor posted advert for BrewDog’s alcohol-free beer, seen in October 2019, included text that stated ‘sober as a motherfu’ next to the image of a beer can with the text ‘BrewDog’, ‘Punk AF’, and ‘alcohol-free IPA’ written on it.
All complainants challenged whether the advert was likely to cause serious or widespread offence and 16 complainants also challenged whether the advert was inappropriate for display in a medium where it could be seen by children.
BrewDog said the campaign started on 21 October and was schedule to run for two weeks across 44 poster sites.
It said the advert was not designed to cause offence and, because it didn’t not contain profanity, it would not cause serious or widespread offence. It also said it was not inappropriate for display in way it could be seen by children.
BrewDog outlined the advert was for an alcohol-free product and was designed to be an alternative to alcohol consumption.
It said the ad was designed to be eye-catching and considered it promoted being sober. The brewer added it did not believe the number of complaints received was indicative of ‘widespread’ offence.
It believed that because no profanity or offensive language was used in the advert, it could not see how any offence caused could be understood as ‘serious’.
UKBillboards said the dictionary classified the word ‘motherf****r’ as vulgar slang, but it did not believe the context the ad was used in was offensive.
It provided two definitions of the word, one was ‘a despicable or very unpleasant person or thing’ and the other was ‘a person or thing of a specified kind, especially one that is formidable remarkable, or impressive in some way’.
UKBillboards said that in the context of the advert, the word was consistent with the latter definition.
The complaints were upheld and while the ASA understood the advert was featured in billboard media on which, no restrictions had been placed therefore, it was viewable by a general audience, including children.
Serious and widespread offence
One complainant identified the advert was placed immediately outside a primary school. The ASA considered older children and adults who saw the advert would understand ‘motherfu’ was a shortened version of the expletive ‘motherf****r’.
It acknowledged the word was not displayed in its entirety however, it considered the word ‘motherf****r’ was clearly being alluded to and ‘motherfu’ would be understood as a clear reference to that swear word.
The ASA also considered the word was so likely to offend a general audience that such a reference should not appear in media where it was viewable by this audience.
It concluded the advert was likely to cause serious and widespread offence and it was not appropriate for display in media where it could be seen by children.
As a result of the ruling, the ASA said the advert must not appear again in the form complained about.
It told BrewDog to ensure it avoids causing serious or widespread offence by, for example, avoiding references to expletives in media targeted to a general audience that included children.