The spot by Anomaly London, seen in May, depicts a party taking place on a wooden ship, soundtracked by Chic’s 1978 classic "Freak out". One party goer is shown dancing away with the illustrated face of the titular Captain imposed over his own.
Text then appears on-screen, reading "CAPTAIN THE DANCEFLOOR", "CAPTAIN THE NIGHT" and "PUT YOUR CAPTAIN FACE ON".
The charity Alcohol Concern, and one viewer, complained to the ASA that the ad was irresponsible because it implied that drinking alcohol could contribute to an individual's popularity or confidence.
Diageo issued a statement in its own defence, saying the ad was about conveying the attitude the brand embodied: one of camaraderie, enjoying time with friends and living life to the full. The brand added that the face of the Captain was meant to embody the brand and did not represent alcohol consumption, and that no alcohol was shown being consumed.
But the watchdog said that viewers were likely to associate the brand and the character with the product itself – and were therefore likely to conclude that his behaviour resulted from the consumption of Captain Morgan rum.
It also said the man was seen dancing in an uninhibited way, posing triumphantly at the bow of the ship and acting in a mischievous manner, which it believed suggested confidence. Finally, it decided that the on-screen text would be understood by consumers as invitations to achieve a confident, uninhibited attitude through consuming Captain Morgan rum.
A second part of the complaint – that the ad implied the success of the party as a whole depended on the presence or consumption of alcohol – was not upheld. But on the first point, the ASA ruled that the ad breached the BCAP Code’s rules on alcohol and must not be shown again in its current form.
Julie Bramham, European marketing director for Captain Morgan, said: "We are disappointed with the ASA’s adjudication. Whilst we are pleased that the ASA chose to not uphold part of the complaint, we disagree with their interpretation on the rest of the ruling.
"No alcohol was pictured and the Captain Morgan face was designed to represent the brand as a whole and not intended to be linked to the consumption of alcohol. We believe that the advert illustrated camaraderie, enjoying time with friends and living life to the full whilst taking charge of a night out and staying in control."