Although drinkers may obviously be shown in a group setting and alcohol can be conveyed as a legitimate accompaniment to a social occasion, marketers should not unduly emphasise the role alcohol might play. If an otherwise dull party becomes a social triumph as a result of alcohol, the ad will almost certainly breach the Committee of Advertising Practice (CAP) Code.
The Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) has upheld complaints about ads in which alcohol was seen as the major component in social intercourse. The ASA upheld complaints about a cinema ad that showed a party on a station platform. It concluded that the ad was irresponsible because alcohol consumption was portrayed as the main reason for the party and for its success (Bacardi-Martini Ltd, 19 January 2005). About a year later, the ASA upheld a complaint about an ad that featured a man dressed in a suit with a Ram’s head and the strapline “This is a Ram’s World”. The ASA noted the “Ram” was the centre of attention at a party thereby linking alcohol with social success (Young and Co’s Brewery Plc, 11 January 2006).
In early 2007, the ASA upheld complaints about a campaign for a drink called Vodkat. Although it accepted that the models were not too young, the ASA considered that the posters irresponsibly appealed to under-18s by reflecting the cool, sassy elements of youth culture. The ASA was concerned that the message of the ad, created by the characters’ attitude and style coupled with the strapline “You’ve got to be one to drink one”, could give the impression that the “Vodkats” were a group of attractive, confident and popular people and drinking Vodkat would make the drinker ‘cool’ like them. It concluded that the ad implied drinking Vodkat could contribute to popularity, confidence and attractiveness and was irresponsible (Intercontinental Brands Ltd, 21 February 2007).
Complaints were received about a Carling campaign that featured the strapline “Belong”. The first, featuring flocking starlings, and a second, which showed a silhouette of several individuals wearing space suits and the text “YOU KNOW WHO YOUR MATES ARE” . The complainants challenged whether the ads implied that alcohol was integral to successful socialising and belonging to a social group. The ASA considered that the ads would be viewed as referring to a spirit of togetherness rather than suggesting that alcohol was a reason for the success of any personal relationship or social event and therefore did not uphold the complaints (Coors Brewers Ltd, 7 May 2008).
In 2010, the ASA investigated whether the strapline “Good times. They’re out there” implied alcohol was responsible for the success of a social event. Although it noted the ad linked good times with alcohol, the ASA considered the ad did not explicitly state that alcohol was the cause (InBev UK Ltd, 6 January 2010).
And in 2012, the ASA investigated a YouTube video showing a fly-on-the-wall style footage about an impromptu event which turned out to be a surprise gig by Plan B. Because the audience was shown holding the advertised cider above their heads while dancing and having a good time, the complainants challenged whether the ad implied it was the alcohol that had made the event a success. The ASA considered it was clear that the excitement of the audience was derived from the surprise and pleasure of discovering they were going to watch a well-known artist rather than an unknown band (Heineken UK Ltd, 19 September 2012).
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.
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