In line with advertising rules, ads which feature alcohol are prohibited from showing in a significant role people who are, or appear to be, under the age of 25.
Although ads featuring alcohol may in some cases show people younger than 25, for example in the context of family celebrations, they should not be playing a significant role and they should be obviously not drinking. Suggesting that anyone under 25 has drunk or is about to drink and implying that anyone under 25 endorses an alcoholic product is very unlikely to be acceptable.
Think about the role being played
Any person or persons, who feature prominently in an ad, are likely to be considered to be playing a significant role; this is as opposed to those who are featured incidentally or very much in the ‘background’.
If only one person appears in the ad they are likely to be considered to be playing a significant role regardless of whether or not they are shown actually drinking (London Oktoberfest Ltd, 4 November 2015). Images of people or groups of people, where they are shown prominently have also been considered as featuring those people in a significant role (NoCurfew Events Ltd, 3 April 2013). For example, images of groups of people who had previously attended similar ‘pub crawl’ events to the ones advertised have been considered to be playing a significant role (365 Tours, 9 January 2013; Time Out Group Ltd t/a Time Out, 10 October 2012).
Showing people holding promotional material like signs is likely to place them in a significant role. A brochure featuring an image of a group of people, one of them holding a sign which bore the advertiser’s logo and a slogan, was ruled to breach the Code because the person holding the sign appeared to be under the age of 25 and although they were not drinking, by appearing in the photograph with promotional material for the brand, the Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) considered that they were playing a significant role (Hi Spirits Ltd, 4 September 2013).
Who the people are and their relevance to the business is unlikely to be considered a defence to a challenge under this rule. An image on a website of the owners and co-founders of a distillery was found to breach this rule because the eldest sibling was only 23 (Sibling Distillery Ltd, 14 October 2015).
This rule also applies to celebrities and public figures. A series of ads on YouTube were found to breach this rule because they featured champion free-runner Tim Shieff who was aged 23 at the time (Cell Drinks, 3 August 2011).
Be aware that proof of age might not be enough
Even if those featured are technically over 25 and this can be proved, if they look younger the ad could still fall foul of the Code; especially if they are shown behaving in an adolescent or juvenile way.
A complaint was received about an ad for an alcohol brand featuring five models and the advertiser provided photographic ID for each as evidence to show that all but one of the models were 25 or over at the time of the shoot (and one was just short of their 25th birthday but was 25 at the time the ad first appeared). However, regardless of their actual ages, the ASA considered that two of the models in particular looked as though they were under the age of 25, and would be viewed that way by consumers, so the complaint was upheld (Maxxium UK Ltd, 12 December 2012).
Exercise caution around non-visual depictions
Though naturally visual depictions of those under 25 make up the majority of complaints, marketers should be aware that there has been a non-visual ruling in the past.
In 2021, the ASA investigated a radio ad for Kopparberg. The ad included the line ‘Whatever you do make those nights at Uni one to remember’, and featured multiple audio scenes of people having fun. The advertiser noted that they had deliberately picked voice artists who were, and sounded like, they were over 25. However, as the ASA concluded that the inference was that the characters were university students (who are typically under 25), the ad breached the Code (Cider of Sweden Ltd, 22 December 2021).
Watch out for social media pitfalls
Don’t forget that an advertiser’s own social media pages are also covered by the Committee of Advertising Practice (CAP) Code, including when they choose to incorporate user-generated content (such as images taken by members of the public at an event) by ‘liking’, ‘retweeting’, ‘sharing’ or similar. The ASA has ruled against a number of ads on social media featuring alcohol which also prominently featured people who looked under the age of 25. (see also Alcohol: Targeting and Appeal to Under 18s)
Caution is advised when posting images from events where under 25s were present and advertisers should take care to ensure that anyone featured prominently in an image looks to be over 25. A number of ads comprised of images from events run by the advertisers were ruled against because the people shown were considered to look younger than 25; though in most cases the advertisers could not provide any evidence that those featured were over 25 anyway (Hi Spirits Ltd t/a Antica Sambuca, 9 January 2013; Sam Welply t/a Tequila UK, 26 February 2014; Hold Fast Entertainment Ltd, 27 August 2014).
Remember that it’s not just ads for alcoholic products
It is important to remember that it’s not just ads for alcoholic products that can be found to breach this rule; any ad which explicitly or implicitly features alcohol is subject to Section 18. An ad for an online retailer of t-shirts which featured a child, who appeared to be around nine or ten years old, holding a glass of wine in one hand and a cigarette in the other was ruled to breach the Code (CharGrilled Ltd, 11 June 2014).
See also, ‘Alcohol: General‘, Alcohol: Targeting and Appeal to Under 18s, Alcohol: Unwise or Excessive Consumption, Alcohol: Juvenile or adolescent behaviour, Alcohol: Low Alcohol and Alcohol: Challenges bravery and machismo.
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.
If you need help and guidance on your non-broadcast promotions, contact us.
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