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