Alcohol by volume (ABV) percentage is the standard measure in the UK of denoting how much alcohol is in a beverage. Rule 18.9 of the Committee of Advertising Practice (CAP) Code refers to alcoholic strength, and outlines what is and is not acceptable in advertising.
- ABV claims
Ads can state factual information about the ABV, whether in the ad itself or simply in a pack shot. Drinks may only be described as ‘low alcohol’ if they have an ABV at or below 1.2%.
However, marketers of products of a relatively high strength should not draw attention to the ABV or make it unduly prominent, as this may constitute a ‘preference’ claim (see ‘Comparing Strength’ below), or may otherwise be considered socially irresponsible.
In 2017, the Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) considered that a Youtube ad for beer made the alcoholic strength of the products unduly prominent, as the ad stated that an 8.1% beer was perfect for “Dutch courage” and an 8.5% beverage was a “traditional fighting beer” (Beer52 Ltd, 26 July 2017).
- Comparing strength – lower/reduced alcohol
Comparisons of strength are not altogether prohibited, but all must be against a higher strength drink. As such, ads for alcoholic drinks may make reduced/lower alcohol claims e.g. “this lager is a lower-strength choice than our IPA” or “we’ve changed our recipe and our lager is now 4% instead of 6%”. Any such claim should not imply that this means more alcohol can be consumed. In addition, unless the product is at or below 1.2% ABV (the low alcohol threshold), marketers should ensure that any lower alcohol claim does not imply a preference claim (see below) on the basis of the drink’s ABV.
Marketers should note that ‘lower alcohol’ claims are very different to ‘low alcohol’ claims. ‘Lower alcohol’ claims are a comparison against other alcoholic beverages, for instance “this ale is 4% rather than 6% ABV”. In contrast, a ‘low alcohol’ claim has to refer to a beverage under 1.2% ABV.
- Health claims
Advertisers should be aware that the only permitted nutrition claims for alcoholic drinks are “Low-alcohol”, “reduced alcohol” and “reduced energy” (and any claims likely to have the same meaning to a consumer), and that any of these claims would also need to meet the conditions of use as outlined in the UK Annex of Nutrition Claims. Any marketers unsure of their responsibilities in this area are encouraged in the first instance to obtain independent legal advice.
- Basis of comparisons
When making permitted strength or energy comparisons, marketers are reminded that they should compare products which are from the same category or considered to be similar beverages. Whilst there is little precedent on this subject, a comparison such as ale vs. IPA may be likely to be considered acceptable given they are similar beverages. However, comparisons such as wine vs. beer, beer vs. alcopop, or drinks vs. bards are unlikely to be acceptable. Marketers should take care to ensure that the benchmark for their comparison is well-evidenced and reasonable in relation to the claim.
The rules for comparisons are very stringent – marketers looking to make comparisons with other products should be familiar with CAP guidance on Food: 5 A DAY claims, and the underlying legislation. Any marketer not familiar with this subject is urged to get legal advice before making any claims in their advertising.
- Preference claims
While ads may state and, in some circumstances, compare strength, only low alcohol (1.2% or below) can be marketed as preferable because of its lower strength, and the ABV should be clearly stated. For instance, the claim “we’ve changed our recipe and our lager is now 4% instead of 6%”. would likely be unacceptable if it stated “we’ve improved our recipe and our lager is now 4% instead of 6%”. Prominent references to ABVs (regardless of strength) may also be interpreted as preference claims, depending on context.
Ads for low alcohol drinks may now include comparisons against standard strength (above 1.2%) drinks, as long as any preference claim about strength relates to the low alcohol drink e.g. “if you like our lager but are looking to cut down, you’ll love our new 1% version”.
In 2017, the ASA upheld a complaint about a tweet that stated that Sharps Pilsners was now “…SLIGHTLY LESS STRONG, SO ITS MORE SESSIONABLE (ABV: 4.8%)”. The ASA found that, because the advertisers had made a preference claim for an alcoholic product that would not be considered low alcohol, they had breached the Code (Savannah Cafe Bar, 4 July 2018).
In addition, in 2014, the ASA found that the claims “THE WORLD’S STRONGEST BEER”, “SAY GOODBYE TO BORING BEER!”, ”The alcohol is very strong but the beer still tastes like a beer rather than a spirit” and “so strong that we have put a warning label on the neck” placed undue emphasis on a product’s high alcoholic strength and implied that the product was preferable (Brewmeister Ltd, 24 September 2014).
Occasionally, it can be difficult to ascertain whether something is a “preference” claim, or a statement of fact, and determining whether a claim is likely to breach the CAP Code is highly contextual and often subjective.
- ‘Increased alcohol’ claims
Advertisers are reminded that claims about their product having a higher alcohol content are not acceptable – for example, a claim that states “Our stout is stronger than our lager” is likely to be considered a breach of rule 18.9. This is both for responsibility reasons and because these are not permitted claims under legislation.
Note: This advice is given by the CAP Executive about non-broadcast advertising. It does not constitute legal advice. It does not bind CAP, CAP advisory panels or the ASA. CAP’s AdviceOnline entries provide guidance on interpreting the UK Code of Non-broadcast Advertising and Direct & Promotional Marketing.
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