We believe (you’ve broken the rules), says ASA to Lion

Steinlager’s impressive ‘We Believe‘ campaign to celebrate 25 years sponsoring the All Blacks has so far managed to evade the legal clutches of the IRB/IMG gatekeepers, despite stepping on Heineken’s toes and stealing a big chunk of its RWC thunder. But it hasn’t managed to evade the legal clutches of the ASA, which has smacked Lion on the hand for a print ad that featured a picture of the white can with the line ’30 names we can believe in’. The ad featured in the papers the day after the All Blacks squad had been named and was deemed by a majority of the complaints board to contravene the restrictions around heroes of the young. But does this ruling show the letter of the law is being taken too far? 

John McClintock, ASA chair, was unable to discuss the campaign and DDB’s Justin Mowday was unavailable for comment. But it seems there’s been a fair bit of industry discussion about the repercussions of what appears to be a rather heavy-handed ruling.

Steinlager’s marketing manager Todd Gordon says the Lion team was very surprised with the decision, especially because the ad was approved by the alcohol industry’s pre-vetting system LAPS before publication, and Lion’s external relations manager Judy Walter says Lion is currently working with its legal counsel to decide what to do next. While she was unable to comment on it in detail, she says “it is a priority for us” so it seems likely the decision will be appealed.

While no monetary fine is imposed when a complaint is upheld, the material needs to be pulled out of the market. This was a one-off ad, however, and there was no intention of running it again, so nothing really changes for Lion there, but Gordon says decisions like this inform future creative and are a big heads up for agencies.

“We take it extremely seriously. And we certainly don’t like having a complaint upheld. We’re pretty gutted about it internally.”

Cliff Turner, who is a regular and, according to some in the industry, rather vexatious complainer about alcohol advertising, felt the 30 names “obviously refers to the rugby players who will be available to play for the All Blacks at the Rugby World Cup and the advertisement thus appears to breach Principle 4.3 of the liquor code.”

Lion pointed out in its submission that Turner has made a number of previous complaints directed at the association between the All Blacks and Steinlager (decisions 04/253, 04/279, 04/280, 04/281, 05/131, 08/446 and 09/350) and “it is suggested that this coloured his view of the advertisement”.

In Lion’s eyes, the ad didn’t refer to identifiable heroes of the young and, additionally, advertisements being considered by the Complaints Board must “stand alone”, which means it should be based on the ads’s content, not the ad’s context.

“The Complaints Board must consider the advertisement in isolation from not only the rest of Steinlager’s current advertising campaign, but from any previous advertising campaigns,” Lion’s submission said. “On that basis it is submitted the reference to “30 names” is not “obviously” a reference to the All Blacks at all… There is nothing in this advertisement advocating or implying irresponsible or excessive liquor consumption by minors. It simply depicts an image of the advertised product under an intriguingly cryptic message. It clearly complies with the spirit and intention of the Code for Advertising Liquor.”

While a minority of the Complaints Board thought the reference to “30 names” was sufficiently distanced to not readily be an identifiable reference to the All Blacks and was too obscure to reach a threshold for identifiable heroes of the young, the majority thought otherwise and upheld the complaint because the statement was likely to be understood by most consumers as an implicit reference to the team.

“The majority also considered that most rugby-aware consumers would know that 30 was a common size of a touring squad of rugby players, thereby strengthening the link to the All Blacks taking into account context, medium, audience and product. Therefore, observing that the “All Blacks” were heroes of the young, the majority of the Complaints Board ruled that the advertisement was in breach of Principle 4.3 of the Code for Advertising Liquor.”

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