Multinational Diageo launched the Haig Club partnership with David Beckham in April last year. It faced immediate criticism from Alcohol Concern, who said his involvement sent a ‘confusing message’ to children.
Regarding Diageo’s TV and internet video advert, the Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) considered whether David Beckham held a strong appeal to children, or – as Diageo claimed – over 25s.
The ASA acknowledged Beckham’s early career would have meant he held strong appeal to children at the time (he debuted with Manchester United aged 17 in 1992, and played for England up to 2009).
However, given his move to play in foreign leagues, subsequent requirement from football, and shift to commercial ventures, the ASA concluded he was “no longer likely to hold such appeal to children in 2014.”
'Strong appeal' to under 18s?
In the advert (which you can watch above), David Beckham was shown riding a motorcycle across craggy landscape to meet with friends. The group were shown in smart attire, while Beckham was shown carrying a bottle of Haig Club.
The group posed for photographs while holding tumblers of the product. This was followed with snapshots of the group (without drinks) in different countries and settings. The ad ended with a picture of the product and the caption ‘Haig Club single grain scotch whisky Welcome’
Alcohol Concern challenged the ad, saying that David Beckham “would have a strong appeal” to under 18s. Complainants also said the ad implied drinking was a key component of social success.
David Beckham: An icon for children or adults?
Diageo defended the use of Beckham in the ad to the ASA, saying the Scotch whisky category appealed primarily to adults over 25 years old, and that Beckham had a “strong appeal” to the 25-40 year old male target market.
Explaining that Beckham has not played in the Premier League for 10+ years, and has only lived in the UK for two of the last 11 years, Diageo said the footballer has limited resonance with young people in the UK, particularly in comparison with current players and other cultural youth icons.
Diageo added that the advert was designed to appeal to a stylish, sophisticated and affluent mature audience.
Although Beckham is involved with Sainsbury’s Active Kids and UNICEF, Diageo said these campaigns were aimed at parents or an adult audience, rather than children themselves.
In its ruling, the ASA said, “As a recently-retired footballer, David Beckham would be likely to hold general appeal for some children. Nonetheless, he had not played for a UK club in the last decade and was therefore unlikely to have particular resonance for children on the basis of his sporting career.
“We considered that, although Beckham's early career would have meant that he held strong appeal to children at that time, the shift from football to commercial ventures, as well as his move to play in foreign leagues and subsequent retirement from football, meant he was no longer likely to hold such appeal to children in 2014.
“Because we considered David Beckham did not have strong appeal to children and was not likely to be a figure whose example children would follow, we concluded the ad had not breached the code.”
Advert shows friendship without alcohol - ASA
The ASA noted whisky was shown as part of a social occasion and was one aspect of the theme of the ad. But it said the early photo shoot scene showed a "well-established friendship and sense of ease between the characters that was already present before the drink was poured".
“We also noted that the only photograph in which the drink was shown was the present-day image and that the other scenes showed the history of the group's friendship without the presence or consumption of alcohol," the ASA said.
“Although the end frame of the ad also included the word 'welcome' and that this carried an allusion to social activity, we considered that consumers would recognize the use of the word 'Club' as a reference to the name of the brand rather than a suggestion that purchasing or consuming the product would lead to social success or belonging," the watchdog added.
Alcohol Concern 'amazed'
Responding to the ruling, Alcohol Concern emphasised Beckham's position as 'one of the most famous people in the world.'
Emily Robinson, Deputy Chief Executive, Alcohol Concern, said, “Given his other roles promoting sport and the importance of a healthy lifestyle, we think the public will be amazed to hear the ASA doesn’t think David Beckham is a role model for children.
“How can we take the ASA seriously when they deem that a global icon doesn’t appeal to young people, and that having one of the most famous people in the world in a whisky advert is not linking the promotion of alcohol with social success?
“This ruling shows why we need tighter restrictions on advertising regulations to ensure children and young people have far greater protection from alcohol advertising.”
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