The advertising watchdog has given Diageo a rap on the knuckles for releasing a Captain Morgan Snapchat ad that would appeal to children.

The Snapchat lens made the user’s face look like the brand’s eponymous pirate and featured two glasses of a rum cocktail clinking together on screen.

A seagull flew a scroll emblazoned with the logo “Live like the Captain” onto the screen while people in the background cheered.

The Advertising Standards Authority argued that the ad, which featured a cartoon image, would particularly appeal to under-18s.

Diageo argued that the image was merely consistent with the brand’s trademark, which depicts a historical buccaneer in traditional 17th century attire.

It said there were no bright or artificial colours and that there was no comedic movement of the face, adding that it was only targeted at social media platforms where more than 75% of the audience were adults. It also used aged gating to ensure the lens was only delivered to users with a registered age of 18 years and over.

However, the ASA rejected its defence, upheld the challenge and ordered that the ad must not appear again in that format.

It said: “We noted that the lens icon which appeared in the Snapchat user’s carousel was of a cartoon pirate and that in order to use the lens the user would need to click the icon. We considered that the icon was a bright, child-like cartoon image which we noted was similar in style to the other icons for non-paid for Snapchat lenses. In that context, we considered that the icon image of a cartoon pirate was of particular appeal to under-18s.”

It added: “The lens was delivered directly to users who were logged into accounts with a registered age of 18 or older, and who were in certain locations. Because the ad was targeted at a defined set of users, we did not consider it relevant that less than 25% of the total platform audience was under 18.

“We understood that Captain Morgan had chosen for the lens to target users who were registered as being over 18 and in the UK. Snap Inc. shared confidential data with us about their UK audience. From their response, we understood that a significant minority of UK based Snapchat users were registered as being between 13 and 17 years old and that they represented one of the largest groups of their total UK audience.

“We also noted separately that research undertaken by Ofcom showed that out of a group of 343 of those aged 12–15 years who had reported that they had a social media account, the proportion who said they had a Snapchat account increased from 51% in 2016 to 58% in 2017.

“We also noted that a large number of the total population of 13- to 17-year-olds in the UK had Snapchat accounts. From the above, we considered that Snapchat was popular amongst younger audiences.

“We understood that the minimum age for a person to have an account with Snapchat was 13.

“We noted that Snap Inc. had reported that it now had the means to target ads to specific audiences using “Audience Lenses”, including by way of inferring the audience age using interest based factors. However, at the time the lens ran, the only targeting data available to Diageo on Snapchat was unverified supplied ages collected when users signed up and geolocation information. We considered that because the platform was popular with under 18s, that was not sufficient to ensure that marketing communications were not targeted at people under 18. We therefore concluded that through the selection of media, Captain Morgan had not taken sufficient care to ensure that the ad was not directed at people under 18 and therefore the ad breached the code.

“The ad must not appear again in its current form. We told Captain Morgan to ensure their ads were appropriately targeted in the future and that they were not of particular appeal to under-18s.”

A Snapchat spokesman said: “While more options for age targeting on Snapchat have been added since July, we disagree that Diageo intentionally directed its lens to an underage audience when it applied the accurate 18-plus targeting available at the time.

“The ASA acknowledges the evidence we provided showing that ages supplied by Snapchatters are a robust way to age-restrict ads.”

Diageo responded by pulling all of its advertising on Snapchat. “We have now stopped all advertising on Snapchat globally whilst we assess the incremental age verification safeguards that Snapchat are implementing,” it said in a statement.