ASA Adjudication on Time Out Group Ltd
Time Out Group Ltd t/a
251 Tottenham Court Road
10 October 2012
Internet (sales promotion)
Number of complaints:
Summary of Council decision:
Three issues were investigated, of which two were Upheld and one was Not upheld.
A sales promotion on the "Time Out Offers" area of the website www.timeout.com. Under the headline "£7.50 ticket to 1 Big Night - London's biggest pub crawl" was an image of a large group of people waving at the camera and text which stated "Offer highlights: ... 1 Big Night Out is London's biggest pub crawl, operating every day of the year in some of the best bars and clubs in the capital. The concept is simple: you and a group of like-minded party animals go on a guided tour of a variety of venues, enjoy one free drink or shot in each place, plus get massive discounts on any other drinks bought. Pay no more than £2.50 for selected beers or £3.50 for cocktails". A section entitled "More details" contained text which read "… 'The night is young and so am I', so sang 80's Antipodean rockers Men at Work. Time to celebrate being a youngster then by taking up today's offer of 1 Big Night Out in London. Explore the best bars and clubs, neck some top-quality grog and meet like-minded people who are as up for a good time as you are. This exclusive offer includes a guided tour, free entry into all venues, a free shot or drink in each plus drink deals in each bar leaving your pocket mercifully full of change for the night bus home. When it's time to party, you should party hard".
The complainant challenged whether:
1. the ad was socially irresponsible because it condoned excessive or immoderate drinking, particularly in young people;
2. the ad breached the Code, because it promoted an alcohol-related product and was likely to appeal to people under the age of 18 years; and
3. the ad breached the Code, because the people shown in the image appeared to be under the age of 25.
CAP Code (Edition 12)
1. Time Out Group Ltd, trading as Time Out, (Time Out) responded through their solicitors, Anthony Jayes llp. They asserted that the ad did not condone excessive or immoderate drinking but rather promoted an entertainment event which consisted of the opportunity to meet people for social interaction at a series of venues. They said the ad offered a guided tour of five venues between 7.30pm and 3am, and that one drink was offered free of charge at each venue. They pointed out that the free drink did not have to be alcoholic. They argued that, according to Drink Aware, a single shot of a spirit equated to one unit of alcohol, and that binge drinking amounted to consumption of more than eight units of alcohol for men and six units for women in a short space of time. Time Out said the amount of free alcohol on offer in this case was five units over a period of seven and a half hours. They stated that the ad did not condone excessive drinking either generally or in young people.
2. Time Out responded that the ad did not promote an exclusively alcohol-related product, because customers could choose water as their free drink. They said the Terms of Website Use for Time Out Offers stated that users must be over 18 years of age, and that offers were only available to registered users over that age.
3. Time Out explained that the photograph in the ad had been supplied by the operators of the offer, who were unable to confirm the ages of the people shown. They said entry was only available to over-18s at the venue at which the picture had been taken, and it was disputed whether the people in the image were, or appeared to be, under the age of 25. They pointed out that no one shown in the image was drinking.
The ASA understood that the ad promoted the 1 Big Night Out event, which allowed participants entry to five venues over the course of the evening and a free drink in each. We noted that the event was described in the headline as "London's biggest pub crawl" and contained references to "a big night out", "party animals" and "massive discounts" on drinks purchased, as well as an invitation to "neck some top-quality grog". We considered that this language gave the impression that 1 Big Night Out was an occasion on which large amounts of alcohol might be consumed.
We acknowledged that if the free drinks taken were always single shots of spirits this would amount to five units of alcohol. However, we considered that many people at the event would be likely to choose a different drink, such as a pint of beer or glass of wine, which would contain more than one unit. We also acknowledged that the free drinks did not have to contain alcohol. However, we considered that, in the context of an event billed as "London's biggest pub crawl", most consumers would expect to receive a free alcoholic drink in each venue. We noted that the ad promoted "massive discounts" on drinks bought in the venues and stated that participants would pay "no more than £2.50 for selected beers or £3.50 for cocktails". We considered it was likely that customers purchasing this offer would expect to buy alcohol at these discounted rates as well as receiving their five free drinks. We noted that the CAP Code required marketing communications to be socially responsible and contain nothing that was likely to lead people to adopt styles of drinking which were unwise, as well as stating that marketing communications that included a sales promotion must not imply, condone or encourage excessive consumption of alcohol. Because of the large amount of alcohol which could be drunk as part of this promotion, and because we considered that the language of the ad condoned an approach of excessive or immoderate drinking, we concluded that this ad was socially irresponsible.
On this point, the ad breached CAP Code (Edition 12) rules 1.3 (Social responsibility), 8.5 (Sales promotions) and 18.1 and 18.10 (Alcohol).
2. Not upheld
We understood that this offer was only available for purchase by people over the age of 18. We considered that the ad did not include any text which particularly reflected youth culture and that, though the people in the image looked young, they were not shown behaving in an overtly adolescent or juvenile manner. For those reasons, we concluded that the ad did not appeal especially to people under the age of 18.
On this point, we investigated the ad under CAP Code (Edition 12) rule 18.14 (Alcohol) but did not find it in breach.
We acknowledged that the photograph in the ad had been taken at a venue open to over-18s only. However, we noted that the CAP Code required that people shown drinking or playing a significant role in a marketing communication must neither be nor seem to be under 25 years of age. Although the people in the image were not drinking, we considered that they were playing a significant role in the ad and that many of them appeared to be under the age of 25. For those reasons, we concluded that the ad breached the Code.
On this point, the ad breached CAP Code (Edition 12) rule 18.16 (Alcohol).
The ad must not appear again in its current form. We told Time Out to ensure that their advertising did not condone excessive or immoderate drinking, and that people shown drinking or playing a significant role in their ads were not, and did not seem to be, under the age of 25.