Food & Drink

River Rock whisky ads banned for hiking and drinking link

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Two ads for single malt Scotch whisky River Rock have been banned after being deemed ‘irresponsible’ for linking alcohol consumption with mountain climbing.

River Rock whisky

River Rock’s two ads were banned after linking drinking with unsafe activities

The UK’s advertising watchdog the Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) has upheld a complaint against River Rock that challenged whether two of its ads were irresponsible because they linked alcohol with an activity or location where drinking would be unsafe.

The ASA’s CAP Code stipulates that ads must imply that alcohol consumption took place after sporting or physical activities.

The ads, both seen on 7 January 2021, included a post on River Rock’s Facebook page, headed ‘Whisky and the Wilderness’.

The text read: “What better way to celebrate the launch of batch #2 than with a whisky tasting at 3,500ft? Read our blog about last December’s memorable tasting.”

It was accompanied with images of people mountaineering, with a bottle of whisky shown with the hikers in one of the images.

The second ad, posted on the journal section of the brand’s website, included a similar message to the Facebook post. The post noted how the brand marked the launch of the second batch of its whisky with a mountaineering adventure, and concluded with a ‘welcome dram around the fire and a toast to good friends’.

The post read: “Thick snow at the summit, with 100ft vertical drops and narrow ridges made for a rewarding and memorable whisky tasting.”

The page also featured images of the hikers climbing the mountain. One image showed a bottle of River Rock being poured into small tumblers and another showed someone pouring whisky into a fellow climber’s cup.

The brand argued it did not believe the ads showed people drinking in an unsafe situation or stated that dangerous activities should be undertaken while, or after, drinking their product.

River Rock said the images featuring people walking and mountains did not show or imply that they had consumed whisky. They claimed that whisky drinking only took place after the walk, in a safe environment.

Whilst they recognised that the question ‘What better way to celebrate the launch of batch #2 than with a whisky tasting at 3500ft?’ may have unintentionally implied that alcohol consumption itself took place at 3,500ft, the brand said the whisky tasting took place back at the car park area after the walk. River Rock claimed the imagery used clearly proved that.

ASA decision

The ASA said that neither ad showed someone drinking alcohol, however it considered that consumers would likely assume whisky had been consumed at 3,500ft due to the question posed.

Furthermore, the ASA said drinking alcohol in the narrow, steep, snowy conditions depicted in the brand’s images would be unsafe. As such, the ad breach the CAP code.

The ASA also said the references to a whisky tasting at the summit, along with the images of whisky being poured into fellow hikers’ cups, in the website post gave the impression that whisky had been consumed at 3,500ft in unsafe conditions.

In addition, the ASA found that the references to the ‘welcome dram’ around the fire in the evening and the image in the car park did not deny the ‘strong impression’ that whisky has been consumed at the mountain following the travellers’ descent down the mountain in extreme weather conditions.

The ASA concluded that the ad linked alcohol consumption with unsafe activities and locations.

The ASA has requested the ads not appear again in their current form, and asked River Rock to ensure the ads were responsible in the future.

River Rock statement

Kirsten Geary, of River Rock, said: “As a sustainable single malt Scotch whisky brand which is committed to both the celebration and protection of the great outdoors, we take our position within the outdoor community and within the alcohol industry seriously.

“The feedback since the story broke has highlighted the strong and positive relationship that whisky has with the outdoor community, and the enjoyment of responsible whisky drinking in such settings.

“The ASA report relates to one complaint made in relation to a social post. We liaised with the ASA and content was updated to ensure it was clear to the reader that the whisky was consumed at the end of the day on which the images were taken. The mountaineering images are still allowed to be used to promote River Rock.

“Our commitment to the great outdoors is fundamental to the brand, and as a proud member of 1% for the Planet which sees the brand contribute one tree for every bottle sold, we will also continue to feature and celebrate Scotland’s wild spaces in our communications.”

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