Heineken UK advert cleared by ASA after responsible drinking complaints

By Rachel Arthur contact

- Last updated on GMT

Heineken's 'Open Your City' campaign was launched in multiple cities, including London
Heineken's 'Open Your City' campaign was launched in multiple cities, including London

Related tags: Alcohol, Advertising

The UK's ad watchdog has cleared Heineken's ‘Open your city’ advert after the Youth Alcohol Advertising Council alleged it promoted excessive drinking. 

The Youth Alcohol Advertising Council brought a complaint to the Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) claiming the TV ad encouraged irresponsible drinking, and implied alcohol would boost popularity and confidence.

To the racecourse, the hairdresser, the bar…

The advert saw a man trying to return a business card holder to its female owner, who had dropped it in a cab after leaving the vehicle.

The man asks the taxi driver to take him to the first business on the collection of business cards – a hairdressing salon – where three women sat him down and he was shown a bottle of beer in an ice bucket.

He then visits the other places from the business cards: including a tailor’s, racecourse (where he takes part in a race), live music bar (where he is handed a bottle).

He finally finds the woman from the initial scene in a bar, where he is shown a bottle in a private room. The woman also has a bottle. The room breaks off into a pod which travels over the city, ending the ad with the text ‘Heineken open your city.’

In the extended YouTube ad, the barber’s shop scene features a bottle of Heineken draped in a hairdresser’s cape.

The Youth Alcohol Advertising Council asked the ASA to consider if the ads were irresponsible on four counts. Firstly, it said they encouraged excessive drinking, claiming they showed the man drinking more than the recommended daily limit.

Secondly, it believed alcohol had been linked with unsafe activities (such as riding in a horserace). The council also said the ad implied alcohol could contribute to an individual’s popularity or confidence, and linked drink with sexual success.

No drinking shown

Heineken UK said the advert did not encourage excessive drinking, because the character was not shown consuming alcohol and did not imply he was intoxicated or had drunk a lot.

When handed an opened bottle in the barber’s shop (extended version), the bottle was covered by the gown then removed unconsumed, and the man was never seen drinking from it.

The ASA agreed that none of the characters in the ad were actually shown drinking across any of the scenarios.

Whilst the ads suggested that a couple of drinks may have been consumed across the entire evening, we considered there was no implication of drinking to excess and no suggestion that any of the characters were intoxicated,” ​it said. “For these reasons we considered that the ad did not encourage irresponsible or immoderate drinking.”

In the racetrack scene, the character was shown riding a horse in a race and winning. No alcohol was shown in this scene. On the issue of linking alcohol with dangerous activity, both Heineken and ASA agreed that consumers would understand the scenario was “fantastical and highly unlikely to be emulated in real life.”​ (as stated by the ASA)

Alcohol and popularity

The Youth Alcohol Advertising Council accused the advert of implying alcohol could contribute to an individual’s popularity, confidence, and personal qualities. Heineken said the character was confident and engaging and his interaction with others was based on the possession of the business cards, not his state of mind or specific actions.

The ASA agreed that, as the man was not seen drinking and his change in physical change in appearance was attributed to the barber and tailor, “his popularity with other characters came from his personality and his consistent ability to engage with others.

"The ad, therefore, did not imply that those characteristics were created or enhanced by alcohol.”

Alcohol and sexual success

At the end of the advert, the man and woman were seen together in the bar. The ASA said that, while there was ‘mildly flirtatious’ behavior from the woman, this did not imply sexual success.

“Furthermore, we noted neither of the main characters was shown drinking in the ads and that there was no suggestion that the final scene, where the two characters left together in the pod, was an indication of sexual success or that it was linked to alcohol consumption.

“We therefore considered that the ads did not link alcohol with sexual activity, sexual success or seduction or imply that alcohol could enhance attractiveness.”

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