ADVERTISING & PROMOTION: Lookalike ads get a kicking

It was described as ‘A Molson moment in a sea of madness’, but in fact the beer brand’s decision to use an Eric Cantona lookalike in a poster campaign last month had longer-term repercussions.

It was described as ‘A Molson moment in a sea of madness’, but in fact

the beer brand’s decision to use an Eric Cantona lookalike in a poster

campaign last month had longer-term repercussions.

Last week Molson, which is marketed by Scottish Courage in the UK, fell

foul of the Advertising Standards Authority over its use of a lookalike

of the Manchester United football star, re-creating Cantona’s infamous

karate kick at a rival fan.

Complaints to the ASA included one from the French footballer himself.

Yet Molson could have been forgiven for thinking that it might get away

with it. Cantona did aim a karate kick at a rival fan and the

advertisers argued the ad was meant to be light-hearted.

Legally, the position with regard to lookalikes is unequivocal: it can

only be penalised if people believe they are actually seeing the

celebrity. This rule is backed up in the industry code of self-

regulation. While the ASA did not believe that readers would infer

Cantona’s endorsement of the product, the regulatory body felt the ads

breached the code in that it compromised the star both commercially and


‘We look at the ads from the point of view of the audience,’ says ASA

spokesman Graham Fowler. ‘It is the public’s take-out that counts more

than the intention of the advertisers.’

The ruling underlines the complexities of hitching your promotional

wagon to celebrities. Cantona is developing himself into an advertising

commodity and would rather forget the kick incident. Furthermore, the

use of a lookalike can undermine the commercial potential of the star.

Cantona was not the only well-known name to complain about being misused

by advertisers last week. Tory MP, and star of The Guardian’s

revelations about MPs taking cash for questions, Neil Hamilton also

secured the support of the ASA. Hamilton objected to an ad for The

Guardian which showed the paper’s cover on the day it branded him ‘A

liar and a cheat’.

Despite The Guardian’s offer to substantiate its claims, the ad fell

foul of the industry code, which says that public figures may not be

used in advertising without their permission if they are shown in an

offensive or adverse way.

Lucy Meredith, account manager at agency Leagas Delaney, says the ASA

has in effect passed judgement on the newspaper headline: ‘The ASA

believed the poster portrayed him in a negative light. Once you start

censoring the front page of a newspaper you open up all sorts of

problems about the ability of the newspaper to advertise.’ Both rulings

underline the hostile environment for advertisers hoping to sneak a

public figure into campaigns.

‘My view is that in terms of the law the use of people and

impersonations without their consent is frowned upon,’ says the IPA’s

legal adviser Philip Circus. ‘And I believe the courts will restrict



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