British Spirits Company Strikes Back Against U.K. Ad Regulators

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LONDON (AdAge.com) -- In a clever public relations coup, the president of Halewood International distilleries has deftly turned a rebuke by U.K. advertising regulators into a hilarious stunt that has focused more attention than ever on his products.

Halewood International has turned a clash with British advertising regulators into a PR stunt that has drawn world attention. The top image above is the offending ad; the lower image is the company's response seeking unattractive males for its next ad campaign.

In June, the Liverpool-based spirits company's new ad for its carbonated, peach-flavored Lambrini drink ran afoul of the British Code of Advertising Practices' recently tightened prohibition against ads that suggest alcoholic drinks may contribute to sexual-social success. That new restriction, which may sound silly to a U.S. audience, was actually motivated by a countrywide concern over the growing problem of binge drinking among British youth.

Sexually edgy ads
Halewood International, which has a controversial history of running sexually edgy ads, is now required to submit its work to the U.K. Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) before publishing it. When it submitted its latest ad for the Lambrini brand, ASA rejected it.

That ad shows three attractive young women “winning” a hunky young man in a parody of a traditional British fairground game where rubber ducks are "fished" out of a pond with a hooked pole. The ad was created by the Manchester-based CheethamBell JWT agency.

The ASA informed Halewood that it considers "advert is in danger of implying that the drink may bring sexual/social success, because the man in question looks quite attractive and desirable. If the man was clearly unattractive, we think that this implication would be removed. This does not mean that we are banning attractive people from alcohol advertising.”

'Fat, middle-aged golfers'
Seizing on the wording about "unattractive men" Halewood's chairman-CEO, John Halewood, responded by creating and publicizing a new advertisement for Lambrini that sought to recruit "fat, middle-aged golfers" to star in a new Lambrini ad that would be more in keeping with the ASA's sensibilities.

Apparently in order to avoid having to submit the work for ASA approval as a public advertisement, Mr. Halewood erected the new ad as a large poster in his own backyard, which overlooks the Royal Birkdale golf course -- where the British Women’s Open Championship was being played.

Mr. Halewood said, “We’re not sure the ASA is qualified to decide for the nation who’s sexy and who’s not. Beauty is after all in the eye of the beholder –- perhaps the ASA should take a look in the mirror before they decide they’ve got the rulebook on sexual prowess.”

World notoriety
The poster and its product rocketed to fame around the world as newspaper and wire service editors leaped on the story about Halewood International's search for unattractive men for its next ad campaign.

Halewood International is a privately run company started by Mr. Halewood in 1979 when he began producing alcoholic beverage products in his home. Since then, it has expanded into a major producer, exporter and distributor of wines, specialty liquors and carbonated, bubbly, soda-like alcoholic drinks like the Lambrini brand. The private company's revenues are not disclosed but it reported selling 40 million bottles of Lambrini annually and its product lines are now shipped to 30 countries.

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