Kiwi vodka brand Nitro left inappropriate ad online for weeks after being told to remove it

The ad promoted vodka as a way to get sex, the ASA ruled. Photo credit: Getty

An advert for a vodka brand that breached advertising rules stayed online for weeks after being ruled inappropriate, despite the advertiser saying it would be removed.

Posted on Facebook on September 6, the advert for Nitro - a ready-to-drink (RTD) vodka mix - showed the feet of two people in bed, one lying face down on the other, with the slogan "no regrets".

The Facebook post said, "NITRO ZERO SUGAR = ZERO REGRETS", and promoted the drink as the "strongest energy RTD formulation", "pumped with Guarana so you may not get that much sleep... which sometimes aint a bad thang", accompanied by a winking emoji. 

Lobby group Alcohol Healthwatch complained to the Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) about the post, noting the ASA code states booze companies aren't allowed to "suggest that alcohol can lead to sexual, social, sporting or business success or popularity".

"It is of particular concern that we note this apparent breach so soon after having an upheld complaint against previous advertisements by the same advertiser," said Alcohol Healthwatch director Nikki Jackson.

The offending advert. Nitro
The offending advert. Photo credit: National Brands/Facebook

The ASA upheld the complaint on October 30, saying the advert was to be removed and not used again. 

Nitro manufacturer National Brands defended the advert - saying there was "no inference to sexual activity", and the "no regrets" slogan referred its lack of sugar - but told the industry watchdog it had removed the post "without prejudice... to avoid wasting ASA's time".

But as of lunchtime Friday, November 22, it was still there. It disappeared within an hour of Newshub contacting National Brands, which didn't otherwise respond to Newshub's request for an explanation.

ASA chief executive Hilary Souter told Newshub while advertisers' cooperation with its rulings are voluntary, there is usually a very high level of compliance. 

"If the ads a problem, you've got to remove the ad. We're actually also working with Nitro, on doing some training for them in the new year."

While it was a simple process to get ads removed from radio and TV, she said Facebook doesn't consider "organic content" posted on brand pages as adverts, so doesn't hold them to the same standards.

Upheld complaints against Nitro in the past have concerned its promotion of excess consumption, including phrases like "chug it till ya cant chug no more" and "three-day bender", and promoting a notorious drinking game called 'scrumpy hands'. 

Dr Jackson told Newshub the public wants greater restrictions on alcohol advertising.

"There is an inherent conflict with allowing the industry to take control of its advertising in order to minimise harm. It's like allowing the fox to guard the hen house. 

"At the end of the day, the multinational alcohol producers in NZ need to recruit new drinkers and maintain our heavy drinking culture to fill the pockets of international shareholders. Advertising is not just about shifting brand preference, it is about normalising our most harmful drug, portraying it as fun and full of happy times - but today I am visiting an emergency department and that is far from the reality."

She said the Cabinet paper on how a potential legal cannabis market would work includes a ban on advertising.

"So why not the same for alcohol?"