Unexpected ads that broke the alcohol rules

Jun 22nd '23

As with all age-restricted products, there are a number of rules that apply when marketing alcoholic products. But did you know that any non-broadcast ad that features alcohol is subject to the alcohol rules, even though that ad may not be for an alcohol brand? Wine not (sorry) read on for three case studies where unexpected ads fell on the wrong side of the alcohol rules.


  • Alcohol as ‘therapy’

The first case concerns a poster for Zapp, a grocery delivery service. The poster showed a bottle of gin, two bottles of tonic water and a lime, with text that stated, “Friday Feels – in minutes, 24/7”.  A complainant challenged whether it breached ad rules, which states that ad should not imply that alcohol has therapeutic qualities or is capable of changing mood, physical condition or behaviour. The advertiser said that it was their intention to evoke an emotional response about Friday and the beginning of the weekend.


However, the Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) felt that the ad suggested alcohol could help accelerate the feeling of relaxation at the end of a working week, and that could be achieved at any time of day. The complaint was therefore upheld. While Zapp is a grocery delivery service, selling a wide variety of different goods, rather than an alcohol brand – by showing alcohol in their ad, they invoked the rules on featuring alcohol and should have taken greater care with the content.


Read more: Alcohol: Therapeutic Claims.


  • Alcohol as a challenge / key to a social event

Our next case concerns a card game. The ad, seen on Instagram, claimed to be the “UK’s most irresponsible drinking game”, and stated, “Spice up your pre-drinks, parties, stag dos and hen dos”, “The drinking game you’ll never remember” and featured images of the card themselves in a packshot, one of which said “Decipher who has the highest body count. They’re a legend. They get to nominate two other players to drink”. The landing page once clicked also promised a “HANGOVER GUARANTEED”.


The complaint was whether the ad encouraged excessive drinking, portrayed drinking alcohol as a challenge, implied alcohol was the key to a social event and targeted under 18s.  The advertiser responded stating that they were new to the market, and were unaware of the alcohol rules, and in terms of targeting, this had been an oversight. However, the ASA concluded that the ads encouraged people to behave in irresponsible and daring ways when drinking alcohol, and that playing the game was a significant factor in the success of an event. All points were upheld.


Although, as the product was a card game, the advertisers may not have been aware of the alcohol rules, the content was clearly inappropriate for children and the ad should have been targeted appropriately.


Read more: Alcohol: Challenges, Bravery and Machismo,  Alcohol: Social EventsAlcohol: Excessive Drinking and Alcohol: Targeting.


  • Alcohol in unwise or unsafe locations

The third and final case concerns an ad for a song released by a record label, DnB Allstars. The ad, seen on Instagram last year, showed a woman getting in a car and removing shots from under her top before passing them round, including to someone in the front seat. The advertised track played over the video, and the caption read “When you ask your mate to pick you up from the bar and they ask you to bring them gifts”. A complainant challenged whether it breached ad rules, which states that marketers must not link alcohol with activities or locations in which drinking would be unsafe or unwise, nor with driving.


The advertiser in this case argued that they were not advertising alcohol, but rather the music track, and they did not think their ad encouraged irresponsible driving. Furthermore, they said there was no evidence that the liquid in the glass was alcohol, and the vehicle itself was stationary. Despite this, the ASA considered that those seeing the ad would interpret the glasses as containing alcohol, and viewers would probably expect the group to keep driving after the shot. The ad therefore linked alcohol with driving and breached the Code.


Read more: Alcohol: Unwise Locations and Activities.


  • One for the road

Marketers must remember any reference or allusion to alcohol automatically makes the ad subject to Section 18. In addition, all of the ads above could be considered generally socially irresponsible, which is also a breach of Section 1 (rule 1.3). These cases show that the scope of the Committee of Advertising Practice (CAP) Code can sometimes reach further than you might expect, so it’s vital that marketers are familiar with the CAP Code as a whole before they advertise their products or services… otherwise, it’s a very whisky business (sorry again).


If you’ve still not had enough, you can read all about the alcohol rules in our Alcohol: General guidance.


Source: CAP


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