The principle behind the Alcohol rules is to ensure that marketing communications do not imply, condone or encourage immoderate, irresponsible or anti-social drinking.
In order to comply with advertising rules, ads featuring alcohol, whether for an alcoholic product or not, should not contain anything that’s likely to lead people to adopt styles of drinking that are unwise. In particular, they must not show, imply or condone excessive drinking and this applies to both the amount of alcohol and the way drinking is portrayed.
- How much alcohol is being featured?
Featuring more than one drink doesn’t, in itself, seem likely to be considered as encouraging excessive drinking. For example, promoting a variety of alcoholic drinks as part of a hamper, an image showing a range of alcohol and a video on YouTube which showed a man holding a number of different bottles of beer in different situations across an evening (but not actually consuming any of it) have previously been considered acceptable (LivingSocial Ltd, 18 April 2012; Pernod-Ricard UK Ltd, 12 March 2003; Heineken UK Ltd, 11 March 2015).
Much of the ASA’s (Advertising Standards Authority) consideration in this area seems to relate to the number of people that the ad suggests might consume the quantity shown, over what period and why.
Showing one or two people sitting in front of the TV with a whole crate of beer could quite easily be considered excessive and at odds with responsible drinking messages; as indeed was an image of a woman surrounded by several crates of beer pouring alcohol into her mouth and spilling it down her body (Student Money Saver Ltd, 19 December 2012). See also Alcohol: Handling and Serving.
On the other hand, a fair quantity to be shared amongst a group of people is less likely to be problematic, especially if shown in the context of a family occasion, party or event, for example Christmas or a sporting event gathering (Sainsbury’s Supermarkets Ltd, 18 August 2004). However, promoting the products alongside an event doesn’t alleviate the marketer’s responsibility to show a reasonable amount for consumption. The ASA upheld a complaint about a restaurant offering a “barrow of booze” for Christmas parties (equivalent to around 12 units of alcohol per person for the minimum of 15 people) as they considered it likely to encourage excessive drinking (Epic Pub Company Ltd, 14 February 2018). Similarly, the ASA upheld a complaint about an ad which offered “BOTTOMLESS PROSECCO” around Christmas time as it considered the ad was likely to encourage excessive drinking and lead people to adopt styles of drinking that were unwise (Suede Bar & Nightclub, 25 April 2018).
Images of party-goers holding multiple drinks and surrounded by more is very unlikely to be acceptable; as is offering a number of free drinks on a bar crawl alongside large discounts on additional alcoholic drinks and emphasising inclusive ‘all you can drink’ type packages (Hi Spirits, 9 January 2013; Time Out Group Ltd, 10 October 2012; Sirowek S.L t/a Stoke Travel, 10 October 2012).
This doesn’t mean that sales promotions involving alcohol are inherently likely to fall foul of the Committee of Advertising Practice (CAP) Code though and a ‘year’s supply ‘of alcohol can be responsibly offered as a prize, subject of course to appropriate targeting and provided that the amount offered is in line with recommended daily guidelines (Bargain Booze Ltd , 16 February 2011).
However, if the chances of winning a prize can be increased by consuming multiple drinks, this is likely to be seen as irresponsible (Hold Fast Entertainment Ltd t/a The Garage, 27 August 2014). Marketers of alcohol promotions are reminded that, as well as rule 18.1, rule 18.10 also prohibits the encouraging of excessive consumption for these types of ads. See Alcohol: Promotional Marketing for more specific guidance in this area.
Marketers are also reminded that even text references to excessive amounts of alcohol (as opposed to depicting actual alcohol) could fall foul of the Code, and the use of humour or memes is unlikely to negate a breach. For instance, in 2021, the ASA upheld an Instagram post which showed only one can of hard seltzer, but the caption stated “4 cans of DRTY and a scotch egg please” – a reference to the rules implemented during the COVID-19 pandemic where you could only order alcohol with bard. Whilst the ASA acknowledged that the post was intended to be light-hearted, the ad was still likely to be seen to encourage excessive consumption (DRTY DRINKS Ltd, 7 July 2021).
As this can be a nuanced area, marketers who are unsure about whether the amount of alcohol depicted could be considered “excessive” are encouraged to contact the Copy Advice team.
- How is the act of drinking being portrayed?
Drinks shown being consumed in one swallow, a few large gulps, over a short space of time or in large quantities is unlikely to be acceptable. It’s also important to remember that even if nobody is shown actually drinking, the depiction of a number of open and empty bottles could still imply excessive consumption.
Imagery which shows anyone who seems drunk or under the effects of alcohol is best avoided, particularly alongside a statement like “I don’t want to die sober” (Opal Lounge, 23 November 2005; Koosday Events Ltd, 9 July 2014). Showing people drinking from very large full glasses is also likely to be problematic and made worse when paired with a claim like “Got yourself drunk at Trocs? Woke up in someone else’s bed?” which was considered by the ASA to not only suggest excessive consumption but also irresponsibly link this with sexual activity (Camerons Brewery Ltd and Trocaderos South Shields, 30 July 2014). See ‘Alcohol: Sex and personal relationships’ for more.
In terms of claims generally, context will usually play an important role in ensuring that the interpretation doesn’t tip over into encouraging immoderate or excessive consumption. However, there are some phrases like “SOMETIMES TOO MUCH DRINK IS BARELY ENOUGH!”, “come and be hammered” and “down it like it’s water” that are inherently likely to be considered as encouraging excessive drinking and therefore unacceptable where alcohol is concerned (Magicfly Ltd t/a Taking Liberties, 27 November 2013; Clwb Ifor Bach, 14 October 2015; Hi Spirits Ltd, 23 October 2013).
It is important to remember that it’s not just ads for alcoholic products that can be found to feature alcohol irresponsibly; any ad which explicitly or implicitly features alcohol is subject to Section 18. The ASA upheld against an ad for a hip flask which featured the claims “Fuck my liver” and “Drink like the rebel you are” which they decided had advertised a product directly linked with the consumption of alcohol in a way that was likely to encourage excessive drinking (URBN UK Ltd t/a Urban Outfitters, 19 February 2014).
While the focus of investigation is often on excessive consumption, the rule also prohibits styles of drinking that are unwise. The ASA has previously upheld against an ad which stated “”Forget boring team meetings in the office… enjoy a glass of Beaujolais Nouveau with a full English breakfast… We guarantee your meeting minutes will be taken to a whole new level!… Now that’s a red worth getting out of bed for” because they considered that this suggested that it was acceptable to consume alcohol at work meetings, and early in the day, with the aim of making those meetings more interesting – all of which constituted irresponsible drinking practices (Corney & Barrow Wine Bars Ltd, 16 March 2011). See also Alcohol: Unwise Locations and Activities.
- What other things are there to consider?
As well as not explicitly showing unwise styles of – or excessive – drinking, it’s best to be cautious about anything that might be seen as disparaging moderate drinking or those who choose not to drink – as well as anything that could conceivably undermine responsible drinking messages (this includes disparaging the idea of Dry January – see Alcohol: Boredom and Loneliness for more on this). It’s worth bearing in mind that rule 18.1 still applies to low alcohol drinks, so marketers of these products are reminded that they also should not show irresponsible consumption in their ads – see Alcohol: Low Alcohol.
Finally, no matter how much you show and whether it’s in glasses, bottles, cans or other packaging, all alcohol must be shown being handled and served in a restrained and responsible manner (Bacardi-Martini Ltd, 19 January 2005). See Alcohol: Handling and Serving for more on this.
Our guidance note on Alcohol: General lists all available alcohol advertising guidance, and may be useful as an overview of this sector.
See also Alcohol: General, Alcohol: Unwise Locations and Activities, Alcohol: Alcoholic Strength, Alcohol: Juvenile or adolescent behaviour Alcohol: Targeting and Appeal to Under 18s and Alcohol: Featuring Under 25s.
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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