Editorial: Drinks advertising needs to be 'whiter than white'

As warning shots go, it was a loud one. When the Advertising Standards Authority banned two drinks commercials last week, it was not messing about.

The first was a campaign for WKD, the Beverage Brands product, which has taken a very laddish approach to advertising for some years now. The second, which has caused more of a hoo-hah, was for Diageo's Smirnoff Ice.

Now companies of the British establishment such as Diageo do not like being accused of flouting any rules. It follows that the drinks giant has complained loudly about the ruling, and is setting up an independent review.

Indeed, both campaigns only got on air because they seemed to fit within advertising guidelines for alcoholic brands. There was no demonstrable sexual prowess and, especially in the Smirnoff case, the drinks were being handled responsibly. Both campaigns, naturally, had been cleared by the Broadcast Advertising Clearance Centre.

It seems that the real bone of contention, though, is that the ASA felt the ads appealed to under-18s. Given that every individual under the age of 18 in Britain wants to imitate over-18s, it seems impossible to avoid such an appeal.

In the Smirnoff case, it transpires that one of the characters in the ads is part of an Icelandic rap metal band. This gives the ASA grounds to argue there was a link with celebrity lifestyle (despite the band's lack of a UK presence).

The ASA's argument seems more than a little far-fetched, but what it does demonstrate is that if the regulator perceives ads to have an appeal for a young audience, then it will find a way of banning them.

Nevertheless, in the nanny state days we live in, perhaps the ASA is doing the advertising industry a favour. For alcoholic drinks advertising to be allowed to continue at all, it is going to have to be beyond criticism. This is a difficult creative challenge, but challenges are what the UK advertising industry thrives on.

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