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Dead Man’s Fingers Hemp Rum £2m campaign under fire

A £2 million advertising campaign to support the launch of CBD-infused Dead Man’s Fingers Hemp Rum cannot appear again in its current form after the Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) ruled it linked alcohol to illicit drugs.

Dead Man’s Fingers Hemp Rum has been rapped by the ASA over ads linking alcohol to illicit drugs

The Scottish Government’s Alcohol Harm Prevention Team complained to the ASA that the supporting advertising for the CBD-infused expression – in question, two Instagram posts and an advert published in Scottish Licensed Trade News – connected alcohol to illegal drugs, were likely to appeal to under-18s, and suggested alcohol could change your mood.

Two of the complaints were upheld by the ASA, while the third was not upheld.

The first Instagram post appeared on 2 July 2019 and included the text “hemp rum, coming to a joint near you” with an image of the product’s bottle, which stated “hemp rum” on the label.

The background featured an image of a skull wearing a hat with a cannabis leaf print. The post’s caption read: “Our classic Caribbean rum infused with natural hemp and CBD. Delicious when mixed with coke or ginger ale – serve chilled, man. Coming to a joint near you. #deadmansfingershemp.”

The second Instagram post in question, also from 2 July 2019, showed a photograph of an outdoor advert, which read: “Warning: our hemp rum might cause the munchies”, along with an image of the product’s bottle featuring “hemp rum” on the label.

There was also an image of a skull in the background smoking and wearing a hat with a cannabis leaf print. The caption read: “So, now you know – our new rum – Dead Man’s Fingers Hemp. It will quite literally blow your mind.”

‘Dealers wanted’

Thirdly, the trade magazine advert, published in July 2019, stated “dealers wanted” and featured a bottle of Dead Man’s Fingers Hemp Rum. Accompanying text said: “Dead Man’s Fingers has crafted a version of their classic Caribbean rum infused with natural hemp and CBD,” along with: “Mixed with coke or ginger ale, it’s delicious, unexpected and always chilled, man.”

The ASA upheld the complaint that the adverts linked alcohol to illicit drugs, stating those who saw the ads would generally be aware that hemp and CBD were derived from the cannabis plant.

It also said consumers would understand the slang terms used in the ads to be in reference to cannabis: “a joint” would be associated with a cigarette containing cannabis; “munchies” would be a reference to hunger felt after consuming cannabis; and due to the shape of the cigarette being smoked by the skull in the second post, consumers were likely to assume this contained cannabis.

“Dealers wanted” would be understood as a reference to drug dealers, the ASA ruled, while in context, the use of “chilled, man” would be understood as a slang reference to the mental effects of cannabis.

The second complaint that the adverts appealed to under-18s was not upheld after the ASA ruled the design and colours would not appeal any more to under-18s as they would to over-18s.

The third complaint was also upheld after the ASA reiterated that adverts must not imply that alcohol has therapeutic qualities, which it believed Dead Man’s Fingers did with the use of “it will quite literally blow your mind” – deemed to be an indication that the product would change someone’s behaviour.

As such, the ASA has told Halewood International the ads cannot appear again in their current form, and any future advertising much not link alcohol to illicit drugs or suggest the ability to change a person’s mood.

Halewood International defends adverts

In its defence, Dead Man’s Fingers owner Halewood International said it had adopted “commonly used slang words” but did not believe that linked its product to cannabis.

The firm said the word ‘joint’ was a slang term for a place or establishment, and was used in the advert in reference to a bar, pub or retail outlet; the use of ‘munchies’ in the ad referred to hunger generally felt after drinking alcohol; and ‘dealers’ was a slang term for someone who bought or sold any type of goods or products.

The group also said the leaves in the Instagram posts were a commonly used depiction of the cannabis sativa plant from which the ingredients of cannabidiol (CBD) and hemp seeds come from, and therefore the ads’ content was “reflective of the ingredients used” in Dead Man’s Fingers Hemp Rum.

It also argued that the colour, content and imagery in the adverts were “adult in tone and nature” and therefore not likely to appeal to those under 18.

The brand’s Instagram account also states: ”You must be of legal drinking age to follow us.”

Furthermore, Halewood said the term “blow your mind” was a common slang term for describing the emotion someone feels when they try something new and exciting. It stressed the phrase was used to highlight the consumer’s enjoyment of trying the product, and that enjoyment was not classified by the advertising code as “changing mood”.

Dead Man’s Fingers launched its CBD-infused rum in July this year, backed by a £2m (US$2.5m) marketing campaign covering out-of-home advertising, digital media, partnerships, events and a nationwide sampling campaign.

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