The Committee of Advertising Practice (CAP) Code prohibits alcohol ads from being directed at under-18s through the selection of media, style of presentation, content or context in which they appear. That means marketers not only have to take care not to use characters (real or fictitious) that are likely to appeal particularly to people under 18 but also should be mindful about the selection of media, style of presentation, content or context in which ads appear. Marketing communications should not appear in a medium if 25% or more of the audience is under 18; so teen magazines or social media feeds aimed at children and the like are problematic mediums.
Direct marketing and placement
In January 2009, the Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) upheld a complaint against a brochure that featured a bottle of wine with the recipient’s name printed on it; the recipient was 15 years old. Although the marketer said it had not intended to market alcohol to anyone under the legal drinking age (LDA), the ASA considered a claim that “customers must be 18 years of age or over” did not negate the marketer’s obligation to avoid directly marketing to those under the LDA (Scotts Ltd, 28 January 2009). Similarly, in 2017, the ASA received a complaint from someone whose child had received a Hungry Horse leaflet in their school book bag. Whilst the body of the leaflet did not make any direct references to alcohol, because it was mentioned in the small print, the ASA considered that for the purposes of the Code, a person under the age of 18 had been targeted with an ad featuring alcohol (Greene King Retailing Ltd, 2 August 2017). See also Children: Targeting.
In 2012, the ASA investigated the placement of an ad for a clothing brand – the ad showed young models at what appeared to be backstage at a gig, with several empty alcohol containers clearly visible. Although the ASA considered that the ad was likely to appeal particularly to under 18’s, by being associated with youth culture, they also noted that the ad appeared in a trade magazine, the readership for which was over the age of 18 and therefore did not uphold the complaint. This is a good illustration of the alcohol rules applying to an ad that features alcohol even though the ad is for a different product (Americana International Ltd t/a Bench, 25 January 2012).
Online and social media
As ads move increasingly online, marketers are reminded that they should make use of any and all available age-gating tools and technology, along with any available data, to ensure that they’ve targeted an ad appropriately. In 2019, Heineken was able to successfully evidence that their ad was appropriately targeted, because they had data to show the influencer they had used did not have a following of more than 25% under 18s (Heineken Enterprise Ltd, 4 September 2019). See CAP guidance on Children & Age Restricted Ads Online for more information.
Appeal and “youth culture”
In terms of “appeal”, marketers should be wary of appealing to typical insecurities such as attractiveness, being “cool”, social acceptance or belonging. Although it rejected complaints about a Carling cinema ad that featured the strapline “Belong”, the ASA upheld complaints about ads that implied drinking the advertised brand could contribute to popularity, confidence and attractiveness and was likely to appeal particularly to people under 18 years of age by reflecting the cool, sassy elements of youth culture (Coors Brewers Ltd, 2 May 2007, Intercontinental Brands Ltd, 21 February 2007). Special care, too, should be taken to avoid the use of music or styles of music that are popular with children and teenagers.
Humour is acceptable but it must not be of a type typically associated with children or teenagers. That almost certainly rules out, for example, practical jokes, slapstick comedy, sexual humour (Stiffy Shots Ltd, 21 January 2004 and Beverage Brands, 22 September 2004), outwitting authority, ignoring responsibilities, ”generation gap” references, puerile behaviour (Beverage Brands, 9 June 2004) and anything linked to youth culture. Juvenile or adolescent behaviour is also problematic (even in an ad where the individual playing a significant role is not drinking) – in 2016, the ASA concluded that a social media star jumping into a pool onto an inflatable would be classed as “juvenile” behaviour, and the ad therefore breached the Code (Global Brands Ltd, 26 October 2016). See also Alcohol: Juvenile or adolescent behaviour.
Similarly, marketers should avoid using personalities, sport or other themes that might appeal to the under-18s. In 2012, the ASA upheld a complaint against an ad that used colloquial language, an emoticon, and referred to celebrities like Cheryl Cole, Nicole Scherzinger and Leona Lewis as these were all likely to have particular appeal to young people rather than older consumers (Maxxium UK Ltd, 12 December 2012). See Alcohol: Use of celebrities for more information.
Cartoons and characters
Marketers should take care when using cartoon-like images; they might be acceptable if they are adult in nature but marketers run the risk of appealing to the under-18s if cartoon images are too childish in their execution (Cobra Beer Ltd, 24 September 2008). Similarly, the use of animation or animals in an alcohol ad is likely to result in a breach of the Code – although the incidental use of, say, a dog being walked is likely to be acceptable. Although the Alcohol rules do not distinguish between teenagers and younger children, the Copy Advice team will use its discretion when judging whether ads appeal to under-18s. See also Alcohol: Use of cartoons, animals and characters.
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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