Heineken's Road to the Final ad is banned in the UK

Heineken adBy Mark Baber
July 18 - UEFA Champions League Sponsor, Heineken on Wednesday had its "Road to the Final" advertisement banned by the UK's Advertising Standards Authority as "socially irresponsible, because it condoned or encouraged behaviour that was either illegal or not permitted."

The advertisement was launched in April, in time for the Champions League quarter finals, and has been a centre-piece of Heineken's advertising around the world, showing the story of a guy surviving on his wits to get to tournament's finale at Wembley in time for kick off, against all odds.

Banning the ad two months after the finals seems a little like shutting the gate after the horse has bolted.

As described by the ASA, "the ad featured a man on a remote island who received tickets for the Champions League Final at Wembley. The man grabbed two bottles of Heineken and put them in his bag before making his way off the island and beginning his journey back to London in time for the match.

"In one of the following scenes, he was seen at border control with two policemen. One removed the bottles of Heineken from his bag and placed them on the table. The man took a plum from a fruit bowl on the table and 'dribbled' it with his fingers along the table before 'scoring a goal' between the two Heineken bottles. The policemen cheered and stamped the man's passport.

"In another scene, he was seen driving through the streets of Rio past a group of young men playing football. Another scene showed the man on a plane followed by a visual of a map showing the plane leave Rio and arrive in London. The final scene showed the man arriving at Wembley Stadium in a Chinook helicopter, running into the stadium past a poster on the wall which stated "UEFA CHAMPIONS LEAGUE" and taking his seat next to a woman. After embracing, they were seen clinking the two bottles of Heineken together in a celebratory fashion. On-screen text stated 'Heineken open your world'."

Fifteen viewers complained about the ad because it condoned or encouraged the consumption of alcohol in a football stadium within sight of the pitch, which was an illegal activity and six viewers complained on the basis that it condoned or encouraged people to take glass bottles into a football stadium, which was not permitted.

Heineken argued that throughout the ad, there was a continued sense of fantasy, "tongue in cheek" humour and a set of highly unrealistic scenarios which afforded some creative license which extended to both the implied consumption of alcohol in sight of the pitch and the use of glass bottles, such that the ad could not be reasonably be seen as condoning or encouraging crime, disorder or antisocial behaviour in any way.

The ASA upheld both complaints against the ad on the basis that it is illegal in the UK to consume alcohol in a football stadium within sight of the pitch and that fans were not permitted to take glass bottles into a football stadium. The ASA said the ad was not obviously fantastical throughout since it depicted a real event at a well-known and recognisable stadium (Wembley). The ad could give the impression to viewers that illegal behaviour (in the case of consuming alcohol) or behaviour not permitted (in the case of bringing glass bottles into the stadium), was acceptable and there was a risk that viewers would attempt to copy that behaviour. The ad was therefore socially irresponsible, because it condoned or encouraged behaviour that was either illegal or not permitted.

Heineken has sponsored the UEFA Champions League for the last seven years principally to create conversation and interaction with consumers. The Road to The Final advert was created, according to global brand activation director Hans Erik Tuijt, to be aired worldwide, to create a conversation and put the brand point of view across so that people can say, 'hey, that's typically Heineken'.

The ASA has ordered that the ad must not be broadcast again in its current form. But with the final having been played last May, it is hard to see a situation where it would be part of a new Heineken campaign.

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