Context is key: ASA dismisses complaint against a Laphroaig whisky ad accused of linking alcohol with sexual activity

United Kingdom

The ASA did not uphold a complaint against Edrington-Beam Suntory UK Ltd t/a Laphroaig following a complaint that its whisky ad linked alcohol to sexual activity, and portrayed alcohol as indispensable.

The claim

The ad, first aired at the end of October 2020, showed a number of people examining and tasting Laphroaig whisky for the first time, along with on-screen text that read “One whisky, many opinions”. The ad showed a close-up of one man taking a sip of the whisky, followed by a still photo of him with the text “You’ll always remember your first” followed by the word “Laphroaig”. The ad also showed various facial expressions of other people who had tasted the whisky and their reactions. There was also a close up of a man who licked his lips while glancing sideways, and another who gazed at his glass of whisky and said, “I think I love you”.

The ad concluded displaying a bottle of whisky, next to two glasses containing whisky, and the text “Are you ready for your first Laphroaig?”. Smaller text at the bottom of the screen stated “100% genuine reactions of people trying Laphroaig for the first time. All reactions are their own”.

Complaint

The complainant challenged whether the ad was irresponsible because:

  • it linked alcohol to sexual activity; and

  • it portrayed alcohol as indispensable.

Laphroaig’s response

Laphroaig claimed that the taste of the whisky “often evoked strong reactions”. Their brand campaign played on this and showed the varying reactions of first-time drinkers, claiming that people would always remember their first Laphroaig. In particular, Laphroaig claimed that the introduction of the ad, which established that the focus of the ad was on tasting the whisky, removed any ambiguity about what “your first” meant, other than Laphroaig. They also claimed that the statement “I think I love you”, made by a man tasting the whisky, did not portray the drink as indispensable, but rather showed a positive “genuine reaction” to the taste.

Clearcast’s comments

Clearcast stated that there was no sexual activity explicitly or implicitly linked to the whisky in the ad, which focused on the genuine reactions of first-time tasters. The context in which the facial expressions were made was unambiguous and reference to “You’ll always remember your first” was clearly contextualised to individuals trying Laphroaig whisky for the first time.

The ASA’s ruling

The ASA did not uphold the complaint. The ASA considered that the ad clearly showed people’s reactions to tasting Laphroaig whisky, including surprise and displeasure. Considering the reference to “You’ll always remember your first” alongside the facial expressions, the ASA found that the overall impression of the ad was that it was an illustration of the different reactions people had on encountering a distinctive taste for the first time. It did not imply any link between drinking Laphroaig whisky and sexual activity, sexual success or seduction.

The ASA further found that the ad did not portray alcohol as being indispensable. Given that the ad was centred on people’s reactions to the taste of the whisky, the ASA considered that the statement “I think I love you”, combined with the man’s happy facial expression while looking at his glass of whisky, was likely to be seen as a light-hearted expression of his enjoyment of the whisky’s flavour.

As such, the ASA found that the ad did not link alcohol with sexual activity, sexual success or seduction, or portray alcohol as being indispensable.

Comment

This ruling is a reminder of the importance of context, and of considering an ad as a whole. Although the ASA found that the slogan “You’ll always remember your first” could, among many “firsts”, refer to losing one’s virginity, it was inoffensive when presented in its context of people reacting to the taste of the whisky. Advertisers should keep in mind the overall impression created by an ad when considering whether it is compliant with the advertising codes.

Co-authored by Stuart Helmer and Aysha Kaplankiran.