Last Updated: 19 November 2019

Article by M. Katie Gates Calderon, Lindsey Heinz, James Muehlberger and Mark Anstoetter

The U.K. Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) has upheld a complaint against The Cornish Rum Co. against its ads marketing Dead Man’s Fingers Hemp Rum. The complainant asserted that two Instagram posts and an ad in a trade magazine used language linking the hemp-infused rum to cannabis, including “Delicious mixed with coke or ginger ale—serve chilled, man. Coming to a joint near you.” Another Instagram post featured an image of an outdoor ad reading “Warning: Our Hemp Rum May Cause the Munchies” along with “an image of a skull which was smoking and wearing a hat with a cannabis leaf print.” The trade magazine ad included the text “Dealers Wanted.”

ASA dismissed the portion of the complaint arguing that the ad was intended to appeal to an audience under 18, finding that the images “were not references associated with youth culture and that overall the colours and imagery used gave each of the ads an adult tone.” The ad board took issue with the wording on the ads, however, finding unpersuasive the alcohol company’s arguments that the words used were not referencing cannabis because “joint” was “a slang term for a place or establishment,” “munchies” was “a slang term for hunger generally” and “dealers” was “used as a slang term for someone who bought or sold any goods or products.”

Further, the images had “a subversive feel”; the skull image “was smoking a cigarette, and, because of the cigarette’s shape, we considered it would be understood by consumers to contain cannabis.” ASA “concluded that because the ads featured imagery and wording associated with the illicit drug cannabis, the ads linked alcohol to illicit drugs and therefore breached the Code.” ASA also upheld the portion of the complaint challenging the use of the phrase “blow your mind,” finding that “alcohol ads must not imply that alcohol had therapeutic qualities” or cannot “be portrayed as capable of changing mood, physical condition or behaviour or as a source of nourishment.”

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