Carling beer ads – ASA decision about complaints

Two TV ads and a poster ad for Carling beer.

a. The first TV ad depicted a group of male astronauts in space suits and helmets arriving in their spacecraft before a giant entity of light somewhere in space. The entity boomed “Do you seek the truth?” and one of the astronauts, with pronounced eyebrows, replied, in hushed tones, “Yes”. “Come forward” continued the entity. “Hang on, are those trainers?” The camera panned to the feet of an astronaut who appeared to be wearing canvass style loafers. “Sorry, I don’t make the rules” the entity continued. The astronaut in the trainers said “I thought they were quite smart”. “The rest of you are alright” said the alien. “Go on in without me” the trainer-wearing astronaut said. “We’re not leaving him!” exclaimed another. “Actually mate” the astronaut with the pronounced eyebrows said to the entity, “I think we’re probably going to try somewhere else instead.” The trainer-wearing astronaut gave a grin. “It looks rubbish anyway” said one of the others. Classical music played as the astronauts merged together into a group silhouette before the being of light and one of them gave a two-fingered victory sign. The text “YOU KNOW WHO YOUR MATES ARE” appeared on-screen across the group of astronauts. This scene was replaced by a pint of Carling with the word “BELONG” written across it in the Carling colours of black and red.

b. The second TV ad showed the same group of men lying down in a canvas tent which was flapping in a harsh arctic wind. They were wearing furry hoods, woolly hats and blankets. Ice appeared in their beards and moustaches. “The radio just died” said one. “Are we going out then?” said another. “Don’t push it Dan” replied one of the others, who had a grey blanket pulled up over his head. “Come on, it’ll be fun” enjoined the party-goer. “Go out there in the freezing wastes? You must be mad” the man in the blanket continued, “We’re not going are we”. Dan looked injured. “We have to go out” he said, “It’s my birthday.” “It is his birthday” one said. “It is his birthday” emphasised another, as if just remembering. “Well why didn’t you say so” enjoined the blanket wearer. “Of course we’re going out.” “Is it smart?” one asked. “Smart casual probably” said another. “That’s the spirit boys” said Dan. “Let’s give Dan the best birthday he’ll ever remember” chimed the original nay-sayer, his gloom forgotten. The polar explorers helped each other up and moved as one out into the blizzard. “It’s brightening up” one commented. Elgar’s 9th Variation, “Nimrod” played in the background as the explorers came together in silhouette against the frozen wastes in the falling snow. The words “YOU KNOW WHO YOUR MATES ARE” appeared across them. The final screen shot depicted a pint of Carling with the word “BELONG” imprinted on the glass.

c. A poster showed the silhouette of the astronauts which appeared at the end of the TV ad (a) with the words “YOU KNOW WHO YOUR MATES ARE” written across it. One of the astronauts was wearing trainers. The word “BELONG” written in Carling colours appeared in the bottom right-hand corner.


1. Three viewers objected that the TV ads implied that alcohol was integral to successful socialising and belonging to a social group.

 2. One complainant objected to the “Space” poster ad on the same grounds.

3. The ASA challenged whether the TV ads and the poster ad linked alcohol with brave, tough and daring people and situations, and suggested alcohol could overcome problems.


Coors Brewers Ltd (Coors) said they had positioned the Carling brand as standing for and celebrating inclusive sociable activity; they said themes of togetherness, conviviality and group activity were reflected in their sponsorship associations in the areas of football and music. They said those themes were summed up in their “BELONG” logo, which they had used since November 2006 and was now integral to all their Carling marketing and sponsorship activity. They said they had worked hard to avoid any implication in their advertising that it was necessary to drink Carling or indeed any alcoholic beverage to be part of a social group, or that drinking was necessary for the success of any social occasion. They said the ASA had accepted the “BELONG” endline in a previous TV ad.

Carling said TV ads (a) and (b) were the first two executions in a campaign involving warm, friendly and uplifting scenarios depicting a light-hearted take on camaraderie and the bond of friendship within a group. They said TV ad (a) took an everyday scenario of mates sticking by each other and transplanted it into an incongruous sci-fi setting. They said the ad did not involve or even refer to drinking. They explained that the scenario of being refused entry to a nightclub occurred before any drinking opportunity could arise for the group and there was no suggestion in the ad that any of the characters had consumed alcohol, or necessarily would consume alcohol in the course of the evening. They said astronauts did not drink beer in space and the visors of the spacesuits were a clear visual reminder of this. They said the problem faced by the group, in which one of them was refused entry to a club because he was wearing trainers, was overcome not by drinking alcohol but by the bond of friendship. Coors said alcohol was not depicted in TV ad (a) as integral to the success of the social group; they said the thrust of the ad and the campaign was that support for and acceptance of your mates was unconditional. They said, for the friends in “Space” it did not matter whether any of them drank Carling or any other alcoholic beverage, but rather that they stood together. They pointed out that “Space” concluded with the endline “YOU KNOW WHO YOUR MATES ARE” followed by a product shot featuring the “BELONG” logo. They said this showed Carling was associating itself with the behaviour of sticking by your mates, but not in any way suggesting that each of the individuals in the group was a Carling drinker or indeed that they necessarily drank alcohol at all.

Coors said they believed TV ad (a) did not link alcohol with brave, tough or daring situations or people. They said, whilst the cinematic opening shots might lead viewers to expect the characters to be macho, action hero types, they were faced with the more humdrum issue of one of their number being turned away for wearing the wrong footwear. Coors said that the characters were polite and deferential in their dealings with the cosmic doorman. They said the setting in space was clearly a fantasy back-drop to an otherwise ordinary episode and none of the dangers and risks that required real-life astronauts to be brave and tough were present.  

Coors said TV ad (b) took the ordinary scenario of a group deciding whether to go out or not and transplanted it to an unlikely arctic setting. They said there was no depiction of, or reference to, drinking although there was perhaps an indirect reference to boredom, with the group initially at a low ebb. However, Coors said the group’s dilemma was fixed not through drinking but through a decision to go out together. They said it became clear the characters were not in fact in any real danger or discomfort, with one of the group noting  “it’s brightening up” and the final shot showing them trudging comfortably off towards their evening out.

Coors said poster (c) referred back to TV ad (a). They expected the poster to be understood by almost all consumers in the light of having seen the TV ad, given the extensive coverage on TV and cinema before the poster was launched. They said their comments on TV ad (a) applied also to the poster.  They believed consumers who might not have seen the TV ad would perceive the poster to be intriguing and atmospheric, but would be unlikely to see it as conveying any clear meaning. They believed any sense of the characters depicted being brave, tough or daring by virtue of being astronauts was undermined by the fact that one was wearing trainers. They said the line “YOU KNOW WHO YOUR MATES ARE” was a statement of fact which made no reference to alcohol and could not be taken to suggest that drinking alcohol was a reason for the success of any relationship or friendship.

 Clearcast said TV ads (a) and (b) were a development of Carling’s previous “Starlings” TV ad and pointed out that complaints about it were not upheld by the ASA. They said they had “Starlings” in mind when approving the new ads. They said, although these ads featured humans rather than birds, care was taken that neither ad should specifically show bars, parties or drinking. Clearcast said they did not believe the new ads went any further than “Starlings” in terms of implying alcohol was integral to successful socialising and belonging to a group. They said they did not consider that the ads linked alcohol with brave, tough and daring people, because the characters in the two TV ads were not remotely brave or tough, but merely a group of friends attempting a night out, albeit in ridiculously exaggerated circumstances. They said they believed viewers would understand these, as in the “Starlings” campaign, as an invitation to participate in social activity rather than an imperative to drink to overcome problems or loneliness.


1. Not upheld

 The ASA acknowledged Coors’ and Clearcast’s references to the earlier Carling TV ad, “Starlings”, which had also used the tagline “BELONG”. We noted that ad had shown a flock of starlings flying in formation in the sunset together to a theme tune with the lyrics “going out tonight”.

 We noted none of the astronauts or explorers in ads (a) and (b) were shown drinking alcohol and that none of them appeared inebriated. We also noted that the characters did not make any references to drinking alcohol and the scenarios did not take place in bars, parties or clubs. Given that context, we considered that viewers were likely to infer from the line “YOU KNOW WHO YOUR MATES ARE” and the final shot of a pint of Carling with the word “BELONG” written across it, that Carling was associating itself with representations of collective conviviality and not that the success of a social occasion depended on the presence or consumption of alcohol.

On this point, we investigated TV ads (a) and (b) under CAP (Broadcast) TV Advertising Standards Code rule 11.8.1(a) (2) (All ads: alcohol and social occasions) but did not find them in breach.

2. Not upheld

We acknowledged Carling’s argument that poster (c) would be best understood by those who had seen TV ad (a) and would therefore recognise the glowing nebula to be the cosmic alien doorman and also understand the significance of the trainers. We noted the slogan “YOU KNOW WHO YOUR MATES ARE” and the word “BELONG” written in Carling colours and considered that most consumers would recognise that the poster promoted the Carling brand. We considered that consumers would interpret the message of the ad in terms of an association of the Carling brand with a spirit of togetherness experienced during a fantastical night-out in space, rather than suggesting that alcohol was a reason for the success of any personal relationship or social event.

On this point, we investigated ad (c) under CAP Code clause 56.11 (Alcohol and social events) but did not find it in breach.

3. Not upheld

We considered that both outer space and the Poles were in reality extreme and frontier environments and that people venturing into them could be seen to require courage, endurance, bravery and resolve. However, we accepted Carling’s assertion that the dialogue in TV ads (a) and (b) revealed their astronauts and polar explorers to be ordinary people on regular evenings out, and that in these ads the settings were entirely fantastical. We noted the astronauts and explorers depicted were well-mannered and softly spoken and did not appear particularly brave, tough or daring. We noted the scenarios presented in the ads contained references to contending with aliens or extreme weather conditions, but we accepted these were portrayed in a light and humorous manner.

We noted that in TV ad (a) the group faced the dilemma of whether to leave a man behind or forgo a cosmic encounter. We considered that whether or not to go ahead with a night out without one of a group of friends was a dilemma rather than a serious problem. We considered that whether or not to choose an alien encounter over a friend could be seen as a serious problem, but clearly a fantastical one. We noted the consumption of alcohol was not depicted as a solution. We concluded that ad (a) did not suggest that drinking alcohol could overcome problems.

We noted that in TV ad (b) the group appeared rather miserable initially. However, we noted that the choice the group faced was whether or not to go out to celebrate a friends birthday. We noted that weather conditions did appear severe, with ice in the mens beards, a blizzard outside and a lack of radio communication to contend with, but considered that references to an establishment in the middle of the polar wastes with a dress code likely to be “smart casual” made it clear that the setting was humorous and fantastical. We therefore considered the group faced a dilemma rather than a serious problem. We noted alcohol was not depicted as a solution. We concluded ad (b) did not suggest that drinking alcohol could overcome problems.

On this point, we investigated TV ads (a) and (b) under CAP (Broadcast) TV advertising Code rules 11..1 (b) (All ads: alcohol, daring and toughness), 11.8.2 (b) (Alcohol ads: daring and toughness) and 11.8.1 (d) (Alcohol: overcoming problems) but did not find them in breach

We considered that ad (c) would be best understood by those viewers who had seen TV ad (a). However we considered the ad would have some meaning for all viewers, and that the slogan, “BELONG”, in Carling colours would be identifiable to many. We noted the ad depicted a group of astronauts against a background resembling an astronomy photograph of a nebula and also noted one of the astronauts was clearly depicted wearing trainers. We concluded that whilst real astronauts venturing into space could be regarded as brave, tough and daring, in this instance the presence of the trainers lent a comic and fantastical tone. We considered readers would infer from this that the astronauts were in fact ordinary guys rather than action hero figures. We considered that the reference to the obstacle of one member of the group being refused entry to a nightclub would be intelligible to viewers familiar with TV ad (a). We concluded this did not represent a serious problem but a dilemma and that drinking was not held up in poster ad (c) to be the solution to any problem.

On this point, we investigated ad (c) under CAP Code clauses 56.12 (Alcohol: bravery and toughness) and 56.4 (Alcohol: overcoming problems) but did not find it in breach.


No further action required.


One Response to Carling beer ads – ASA decision about complaints

  1. jane shaw says:

    I recently payer 4 12 cans of carling from our new kwik save on low wood lane birstall when I got ome n started 2 try open the cans realised that more than half of the ring pulls Cum off in my hand without opening my can of larger so I had 2 get a kitchen opject n stab then drinking hole thru witch resulted un me stabbin n casuing injuery 2 my self

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