Diageo to fight Smirnoff advert ban over alcohol and social responsibility

By Rachel Arthur contact

- Last updated on GMT

What part of the ad changed the atmosphere? Alcohol - or something else?
What part of the ad changed the atmosphere? Alcohol - or something else?

Related tags: Alcoholic beverage

Diageo GB will appeal an advertising ban for a Smirnoff vodka TV advert, saying it is ‘deeply disappointed’ that the UK watchdog believes it implied the success of the social occasion depended on alcohol.

The Advertising Standards Authority (ASA), the UK’s media regulator, has ruled the ad must not appear again in its current form.

The advert shows an unfriendly bar change into a welcoming environment.

The ASA believes the presence of alcohol was pivotal in changing the atmosphere.  Diageo, however, argues that it was other factors that made the transition – not the alcoholic drink.

Pretentious to playful

The TV advert (which you can watch below) showed people standing in a bar, looking unfriendly. The camera angles mimicked the view of a person walking among them.

A shift in the scene followed: showing the same bar but a different atmosphere.  A bartender put vodka and a mixer into a glass while music began to play. The bar became brighter and people started to smile and acknowledge the camera. The on-screen text said ‘Filter the unnecessary. Keep the good stuff.’

Diageo argued that the ad showed the transition from a pretentious bar scene (with people wearing restrictive extravagant clothing, sculptured hair styles, and displaying an air of superficiality) to a relaxed bar scene. A tilt of the bar acted as a physical division to filter out the pretentious aspects.

It added that people in the second half of the ad were seen being themselves, as well as appearing friendly and approachable. It noted that when the second scene began, the DJ and consumers entered first, accompanied by a change in music.

Crucially, it believes that the removal of pretentiousness from the first scene – and not the presence of alcohol – was pivotal to the change in the ad.

Alcohol ‘pivotal,’ says ASA

However, the ASA disagreed. It said the atmosphere immediately changed after the visitor signalled to the bartender for an alcoholic drink. 

“The ad's presentation implied that before the visitor asked for an alcoholic drink, the bar was cold and uninviting. And once his drink had been ordered, the bar changed and became livelier and more fun.

“We considered the contrast between the two implied it was the presence of the alcohol that was the pivotal point in the bar's transformation.

 “We therefore considered the ad implied that the success of the occasion − the night out at the bar − depended on the presence of alcohol.”

The ad was found to have breached the BCAP Code (UK code of broadcast advertising) rules on social responsibility and alcohol.

Smirnoff appealing decision

Julie Bramham, marketing director, Smirnoff, said the brand is ‘deeply disappointed’ by the ASA’s decision.

We believe the advert clearly showed two scenarios that were separated by a physical change of the bar symbolising the ‘filtering’ of unnecessary pretentiousness, and not by the presence of alcohol,”​ she said.

Pre-approval for the ad had been granted by Clearcast, she added.  

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