The Advertising Standards Authority has banned an out-of-home ad for BrewDog’s alcohol-free beer, Punk AF, on the grounds of causing offence and being inappropriate to be shown where it can be seen by children.
Campaign reported at the start of November – immediately after it launched – that the watchdog was investigating the ad, "Sober as a motherfu", created by Uncommon Creative Studio. The ASA has now received 26 complaints in total; all complainants referred to the work's potential to cause serious or widespread offence, while 16 also mentioned that it was being shown where it could be viewable by children.
In its response to the regulator, BrewDog argued that the number of complaints suggested that any offence caused by the ad could not be "widespread" and claimed that there was no profanity featured, so it could not be "serious" offence.
Meanwhile, media owner UKBillboards argued that the partial use of the word "motherfucker" should not be considered offensive because it was not being used in the insulting or abusive sense, but rather in a positive sense of "a person or thing of a specified kind, especially one that is formidable, remarkable or impressive in some way".
But the ASA said the poster would clearly be seen to allude to the word "motherfucker" and this was likely to offend a general audience – including children – and so it should not be used in any media viewable by that audience. It ruled that the ad breached the CAP Code rules on both social responsibility as well as harm and offence.
It is not the first time the 12-letter word has got BrewDog in trouble with the ASA. In 2013, the brewer was told by the body to remove a statement from its website referring to itself as a "post Punk apocalyptic mother fu*ker of a craft brewery" (asterisk included in original text).
BrewDog founder James Watt responded to that ruling by saying: "We believe in freedom of speech and artistic expression. We don’t believe in mindless censorship. As for the ASA – those motherf*ckers don’t have any jurisdiction over us anyway."
The following year, Watt published a notorious statement apologising to the Portman Group for "not giving a shit about today’s ruling" after the industry body told the brand to change the packaging for Dead Pony Club to remove statements including "Drink fast, live fast".
This article first appeared on PRWeek sister title Campaign