By SIMON HENDERY marketing writer
42 Below has capped off an eventful and controversial year with a ticking-off from the Advertising Standards Complaints Board over a vodka ad dubbed "extremely damaging to the liquor industry as a whole".
The board has upheld a complaint about the ad, which referred to Maori drinking large amounts of 42 Below vodka, trading it for blankets, muskets and hobbits, and linked the product with the All Blacks, the America's Cup, the Shotover River and Russell Crowe.
The ad, which the listed spirits producer said was largely a "spoof", has been condemned by the board for breaching liquor advertising guidelines designed to promote moderation in drinking, and social responsibility.
It was also deemed to reinforce a negative stereotype of Maori, to make inappropriate references to youth heroes, and to link the consumption of alcohol to a hazardous situation.
The complaint was the seventh liquor-related complaint the board has ruled on this year and the second it has upheld.
The board works under a voluntary, self-regulating framework and does not have powers to hand down punishments to advertisers whom it rules against.
However, when complaints are upheld, the advertiser, advertising agency and media are asked to voluntarily withdraw the advertisement.
The board says such requests are invariably followed.
42 Below's 30-second ad ran on radio in September and a longer version appeared on 42 Below's website.
It prompted a complaint from the chief executive of the Distilled Spirits Association, Thomas Chin, who said it breached principles of relevant advertising codes of practice.
The association represents about 90 per cent of the country's spirits producers and importers but does not count 42 Below among its membership.
Another complaint about the same ad, focusing on the negative portrayal of Maori, and the confusion regarding the national identity of Australia and New Zealand, was also lodged with the authority.
The second complainant said that in her view the advertisement was in bad taste and was not saved by humour.
42 Below managing director Geoff Ross, a former advertising executive who created the vodka in his spare time while working for Saatchi & Saatchi, is overseas and could not be reached for comment.
However, in response to the complaints, 42 Below told the ASCB that the ad was a "spoof" of all those things that New Zealand is typically known for.
"These stereotypical icons include the All Blacks, America's Cup boats, Maori dance groups, Lord of the Rings, Russell Crowe and the often incorrect belief that we are part of Australia.
"We simply use exaggerated humour to break down these stereotypes. This is probably described as 'Billy T' humour, where we as a country have a laugh at ourselves."
The Radio Network, which broadcast the ad on its Newstalk ZB network, told the board it had assumed, incorrectly, that the agency that made it had obtained Liquor Advertising Pre-Vetting System (Laps) approval.
Laps approval involves a pre-broadcast check of advertisements to endeavour to ensure they comply with the Code for Advertising Liquor and other advertising codes.
The Radio Network said it now required all agencies to produce Laps approval before it agreed to broadcast their ads.
In its decision., the complaints board said its unanimous view was that the ad conflicted with the need - set out in the Code for Advertising Liquor - for advertisers to promote moderation in liquor consumption.
The line "drink large amounts of 42 Below" in the ad encouraged immoderate consumption, it said.
In general the ad did not observe the requisite high standard of social responsibility and was culturally offensive, it said.
References to the Shotover River and the America's Cup yachts were not acceptable in a liquor ad because they linked alcohol consumption with the hazardous situation of boating, which the board said was "an extremely dangerous practice".
It also ruled that in its references to Russell Crowe and the All Blacks, the ad had referred to "identifiable heroes of the young".
Responding to 42 Below's claim that the ad was intended to be humorous, the board said that while satire, humour and hyperbole were acceptable in liquor ads, the use of those elements did not override the need to comply with the code.
In this case the ad had notched up multiple breaches of the principles of the code.
"The publication or broadcast of advertisements of the type before the complaints board was extremely damaging to the liquor industry as a whole," it said.
By SIMON HENDERY marketing writer