Alcohol: Boredom and loneliness

Feb 23rd '22

Advertising rules state “Marketing communications must not imply that alcohol might be indispensable or take priority in life or that drinking alcohol can overcome boredom, loneliness or other problems.”


Although the Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) receives comparably few complaints about this particular rule, the Committee of Advertising Practice (CAP) Copy Advice team frequently advises against marketing communications that are questionable on these grounds. Showing a depressed person sitting with a bottle of booze in one hand and a glass in the other is obviously unacceptable, as are ads that irresponsibly emphasise the importance of alcohol, or suggest that it can be used as a means of dealing with difficult, stressful or boring situations. See also Alcohol: Therapeutic claims.


In 2014, the ASA found that an ad which showed a pirate raising a glass alongside text which stated “Wednesday. I’m declaring war on mid-week boredom” was problematic for suggesting that drinking could alleviate boredom (Diageo Great Britain Ltd, 23 July 2014).


When considering whether a marketing communication has breached rule 18.6, the ASA will take its tone, and whether its message is likely to be taken literally, into account, but marketers should be careful not to assume humour buys them too much leeway. In 2013, the ASA rejected the advertiser’s argument that ads which stated “I’d dump my boyfriend for more Fireball cinnamon whisky” and “The only thing in life more important to me than Fireball is…” had been written in jest and would not be understood by consumers to mean that alcohol should take priority in life, or that it was indispensable (Hi-Spirits Ltd, 17 July 2013).


Similarly, in 2017, the ASA investigated four ads which used memes in their marketing. One meme showed a cartoon man drinking, and featured the words “People are not addicted to alcohol or drugs, they are addicted to escaping reality”, whilst another stated “I see people all the time going to therapy, thinking they’ve got a problem. What’s up with everyone get onit [sic], order a Crateman and live a little…or a lot”. Whilst the advertiser made clear that they had only attached their brand to popular internet memes, the ASA considered the ads had the effect of implying alcohol could overcome boredom, loneliness and other personal problems, and therefore breached the Code (Drink Doctor Ltd, 24 May 2017).


Due to its increase in popularity in recent years, the Copy Advice team have seen an uptick in references to Dry January in ads for alcoholic products. Whilst a reference to Dry January is not always or inherently problematic, in many cases it will be, since the intended effect from alcohol marketers will often be that Dry January or sobriety is difficult or boring. This was seen in an investigation in 2021, where the ASA investigated an email with the subject “Friend, forget Dry January”. Once opened, the email stated, “January’s always a tough month – the fun of Christmas is over, it’s still cold, and there’s pressure to diet and exercise like a maniac. If, like us, you’re finding the thought of all that a bit much this year, read on. We do have lots of fantastic non-alcoholic options in store for those of you who are still committing to Dry Jan – but frankly that’s not for us (was it ever). Instead, we thought you might need all the help you could get over the next few weeks, so we’ve put together Lockdown 3.0 – a 6-bottle mixed case of fantastic reds and whites. A survival kit, if you will.” Though the ASA acknowledged that the advertiser had referenced non-alcoholic options, the overall impression of the ad was that alcohol could overcome problems, including boredom and low mood (Reserve Ltd, 10 March 2021).


Alcohol marketers unsure of whether their ads are likely to breach the Code in this way are urged to contact the Copy Advice team for advice.


See also Alcohol: General, Alcohol: Unwise or Excessive ConsumptionAlcohol: Juvenile or adolescent behaviour and Alcohol: Challenges bravery and machismo.


Source: CAP


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 Advice Online entries provide guidance on interpreting the UK Code of Non-broadcast Advertising and Direct & Promotional Marketing.


Read guidance on Alcohol: General.


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