Alcohol advertising is often a sensitive topic. Societal concerns about alcohol, in particular problems such as binge and underage drinking, mean that it is rarely out of the headlines. With these issues high on the political agenda close scrutiny has been given to those factors that may influence the amount of alcohol we consume.
The UK advertising rules for alcohol are amongst the strictest in the world. The rules are based upon evidence that points to a link between alcohol advertising and people’s awareness and attitudes to drinking. Accordingly the rules, independently enforced by the ASA, were significantly tightened in 2005 and were again re-evaluated and subject to full public consultation in 2009.
The stringent rules, which apply across all media and are mandatory, place a particular emphasis on protecting young people; alcohol ads must not be directed at people under 18 or contain anything that is likely to appeal to them by reflecting youth culture or by linking alcohol with irresponsible behaviour, social success or sexual attractiveness.
The TV and radio advertising rules contain strict controls about the placement and content of alcohol advertising. Alcohol ads are banned from appearing in and around programmes commissioned for or principally targeted at audiences below the age of 18, as well as programmes likely to appeal particularly to audiences below the age of 18.
As shown by the example adjudications below, the ASA has been robust in applying these rules on those rare occasions when advertisers get it wrong:
Aston Manor Brewery Company Ltd – A series of videos on the Frosty Jack's YouTube page promoting a cider drink featured juvenile and irreverent behaviour and were irresponsible as they were likely to appeal particularly to young people.
Cider of Sweden Ltd – The ASA judged that the ad, set in a nightclub and showing a crowd dancing to live music, was likely to appeal strongly to people under 18 and was irresponsible.
Cell Drinks – The ASA decided that these YouTube ads, featuring a free-runner jumping around and over buildings, would appeal particularly to young people and that the ad was in breach of the Code.
Wild Cape Liqueurs Ltd – This ASA concluded that the ad linked alcohol with seduction and therefore breached the Code.
ASA investigations, pro-active monitoring of alcohol advertisements and ongoing advice, guidance and training for industry help to maintain high compliance rates with the strict rules.
In May 2013 the ASA welcomed research by our co-regulatory partner, Ofcom, into children’s exposure to alcohol advertising on TV. The research was commissioned in light of the Government’s Alcohol Strategy.
In response to that research the ASA investigated audience data, provided by Ofcom, and took action against broadcasters that breached the scheduling rules, examples are provided below:
Channel Four Television Corporation t/a Film4 - We told Film 4 to ensure they took more care when scheduling alcohol ads in the future.
Paramount UK Partnership t/a Comedy Central - We were concerned that an alcohol ad was broadcast in a film principally directed at audiences below the age of 18 years.
Discovery Communications Europe Ltd t/a Discovery - We told Discovery to follow the BCAP Guidance Note 4 and use the 10 to 15 audience index for forecasting the likely appeal of a programme to audiences below the age of 18 years.
In December 2013 the Broadcast Committee of Advertising Practice, our sister body that writes and maintains the advertising rules for broadcast, published a new, strengthened, guidance note on the scheduling of TV advertisements to help broadcasters identify which television programmes should exclude ads for alcohol and other age restricted products.
Further information on the rules surrounding alcohol advertisements can be found in the ASA Hot topic on Alcohol.
You can check out the rules themselves, here:
Non-broadcast rules: Section 18 - Alcohol
Broadcast rules: Section 19 - Alcohol
Broadcast scheduling rules: Section 32 - Scheduling