Alcohol: Sex and personal relationships

Mar 30th '20

The Committee of Advertising Practice (CAP) Code states “Marketing communications must neither link alcohol with seduction, sexual activity or sexual success nor imply that alcohol can enhance attractiveness… [and] must not imply that drinking alcohol is a key component of the success of a personal relationship or social event. The consumption of alcohol may be portrayed as sociable or thirst-quenching”.


Marketers often require guidance on the interpretation of these rules. As always, much will depend on the execution but marketers should bear these in mind:


  1. i) does the alcohol, implicitly or explicitly, make one or more characters in the ad more sexually attractive?
  2. ii) does the alcohol seem to improve sexual activity in some way?


iii) does the alcohol seem to play a role in sex, for example, by being linked, implicitly or explicitly, with foreplay or sexual intimacy?


  1. iv) does the alcohol seem key to sexual success, for example by removing inhibitions?
  2. v) does the ad hint at sexual reward or promiscuity?
  3. vi) does the ad link the alcohol with sexual behaviour?


If the answer to any of those questions is ”yes”, marketers might have to think again and revise the ad both to make sure it does not breach the Code and to ensure it is in tune with society’s present ideas of responsible alcohol advertising.


Complaints were received about an ad for Belvedere on the grounds that it linked alcohol with sexual success. The ad featured a man seated on a sofa with two women in close physical contact with him, one with her arm around his neck, who appeared to be sexually attracted to him. A partly empty bottle of Belvedere was on the table in front of them. The Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) considered that the ad linked Belvedere with sexual success and therefore the complaint was upheld (Moet Hennessy UK Ltd, 17 December 2008).


The ASA has decided that strong sexual images in advertisements for alcoholic drinks can breach the Code even if nothing directly suggests that the drink enhances the drinker’s sexual capabilities (Diageo Great Britain Ltd, 21 January 2004). When judging a poster for a product called ‘Stiffys Shots’, the ASA ruled that the name of the product could imply enhanced sexual performance; that is a tougher stance than in previous years when, for instance, it ruled that the name ‘Shag’ lager did not breach the Code (Stiffys Shots Ltd, 21 January 2004, and Spirit, Hop & Grape Company Ltd, 17 October 2001).


The ASA has also ruled that an ad that featured a photo of a stereotypical ‘buxom wench’, with the line “I love a good session on the Bishops Finger” played on the connotations of drinking and sexual activity. The ASA considered that the woman’s pose was suggestive and concluded that, in combination with the text, it was likely to be seen as linking alcohol with seduction and sexual activity (Shepherd Neame Ltd, 25 October 2006). An ad for Wild Africa Cream Liqueur showed a couple embracing along with the text “Everyone has a wild side to them. Discover yours with Wild Africa Cream” and “unleash your wild side”. The ASA considered that the image of the couple embracing in conjunction with the strapline implied that the woman’s alcohol consumption had led to her seducing the man. The ad was considered to link alcohol with seduction and therefore breached the Code (Wild Cape Liqueurs Ltd, 1 July 2009).


Similarly, in 2017, the ASA challenged whether a Beer52 ad linked alcohol with sex, and implied that alcohol was a key component of a relationship. Despite the advertiser stating that the protagonist was simply lonely and the woman in the ad only behaved provocatively because it was her sense of humour, the ASA concluded that the ad did link alcohol with sex and successful relationships, and therefore breached both Code rules (Beer 52 Ltd, 26 July 2017).


Marketers should be aware that simply having “romance” or romantic scenes in an ad does not necessarily mean the ad breaches the code. In 2016, the ASA investigated whether ads for a prosecco product linked alcohol with sexual success or implied it was responsible for the relationship through showing a couple kissing passionately and dancing together. The ASA considered that the overall execution of the ads did not imply that the alcohol was the reason for the relationship, nor did it imply that the alcohol had enhanced the couple’s attractiveness to one another (Freixenet UK Ltd, 11 May 2016). Marketers however should take care around the use of romantic themes, and those that are unsure as to whether their concept is likely to breach the Code are encouraged to seek a view from the Copy Advice team.


In addition to rule 18.5 (which prohibits linking alcohol with sex/seduction etc.), rule 18.3 prohibits marketers from portraying alcohol as enhancing popularity or being a reason for the success of a personal relationship. Alcohol marketers are reminded that not only are obvious allusions to popularity/successful relationships likely to be problematic, but implied references also have this potental. Conversely, in 2012, the ASA rejected complaints that Chivas Regal ads implied that alcohol could enhance popularity. The ads contained an image of a bottle of whisky along with the text “ANNUAL BONUS: HAVING MORE FRIENDS THAN YOU HAD LAST YEAR”. The ASA accepted the advertiser’s argument that the poster was part of a campaign which clearly aimed to encourage people to think beyond financial success and to appreciate and value of personal relationships. The ASA’s decision may well have been different if the campaign posters were not shown together to give the message its particular context (Pernod Ricard UK Ltd, 4 July 2012).


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


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