The UK Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) has committed an embarrassing U-turn after reversing a February decision that rapped two adverts for Kronenbourg 1664 beer featuring former Manchester United soccer star Eric Cantona.
The UK watchdog originally upheld too complaints against Kronenbourg 1664 adverts – one for implying that the beer is brewed in France, and the other for overstating the importance of French hops, given that (eye catchingly) other hops used are not grown in that country.
A Heineken spokesman told BeverageDaily.com at the time that the brand would comply with the adjudication and would not repeat the adverts in the immediate future, but added that the brewer was requesting an independent review of the decision "as we believe that there are significant flaws".
Heineken UK won the independent review process, and despite saying in February - see our article written then, 'Ooh, Ah, Cantona's gone too far!' , that the adverts breached Committee of Advertising Practice (CAP) rules along the lines we detail above, the ASA reversed its ruling yesterday.
'Case against us was simply wrong' - Heineken
Welcoming the decision, a Heineken spokesman said: "Following our request to the Independent Reviewer of the ASA, Sir Hayden Phillips, we have been informed that the ASA Council identified significant flaws in its January 2014 decision to uphold complaints about two Kronenbourg 1664 adverts - including the TV commercial featuring Eric Cantona.
"The chair of the ASA Council has confirmed that these decisions have now been reversed, and that neither complaint has now been upheld. This means that we are free to continue using the advertisements without amendment should we wish too," he added.
Jacco van der Linden, UK marketing director, said: "We are delighted that our advertising has finally been judged to be fully compliant with the CAP/BCAP codes and that there is no longer any suggestion that we could mislead consumers.
"Whilst we fully recognize and support the complaints process operated by the ASA as a hugely important part of effective self regulation, in this particular case, we felt very strongly that the decision to rule against us was simply wrong and would set some unintended precedents for future advertising," he said.
Describing Kronenbourg 1664 as a 'French beer' in the press advert was acceptable given that it was originally brewed in France, and since a French firm still had oversight of the process today, the ASA said.
It added that small print clarified that 1664 was brewed in the UK, while images and text indicated to consumers that the beer was associated with France via use of Strisselspalt hops as one ingredient, rather than the production location.
Turning to the video featuring Cantona, and a statement that hop farmers in Alsace "are the men that grow the noble hops that make Kronenbourg the taste supreme.." this did not go so far as to indicate that all hops used in the beer were sourced in France, the ASA added, clearing the advert on this head.
'As a confident regulator we can rethink our findings' - ASA
An ASA spokesman denied to BeverageDaily.com that the authority's U-turn was embarrassing, and said a review process was part of the system and flagged-up on its website.
"Ultimately, as a confident regulator we can rethink our findings, be convinced by an independent review process and republish our decision, admit that on consideration we got it wrong the first time," he said.
ASA council members, who conduct formal investigations of complaints by consumers about ads broadcast in the UK, are appointed by the ASA chair following national advertisements.
They’re the final arbiters of the code, but investigations are undertaken by the body's investigations executive, and the ASA says it has specialists in food rules and the 2006 EU Nutrition and Health Claims Regulation (NHCR) who assess claims made in ads.
However, the agency recently drew fire from industry consultant Julian Mellentin over an adjudication relating to Benecol yogurt drinks, when he attacked the ASA in comments to our sister site NutraIngredients.com.
Consultant attacks 'stupid' Benecol ruling
Despite being approved by the broadcast approver, Clearcast, the ASA ruled in May that the ad had inappropriately used an EU-approved cholesterol reducing claim by stating Benecol was, “proven to lower cholesterol by up to 10% in just three weeks".
“This attack on a European Food Safety Authority (EFSA)-approved claim has to be one of the most stupid regulatory rulings that I have seen,” said Mellentin.
“The ASA panel who arrived at this decision must be composed of people with zero understanding of the [2006 health claims] regulation and the science. They should be called to account.”
*Article updated to include Heineken statement, headline altered and description of ASA arbitration process added in.