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:
Budge Brands Ltd t/a Premier Estates Wine – A tweet and videos that appeared on the advertiser's website promoting wine presented a woman in a degrading manner which was likely to cause serious or widespread offence as well as linking alcohol with sexual activity.
Diageo Great Britain Ltd t/a Parrot Bay – A TV ad, for an alcoholic frozen cocktail drink featured a colourful animated parrot in a tropical setting. The ad, particularly the parrot character and its behaviour was likely to appeal strongly to children and was therefore irresponsible.
Beverage Brands (UK) Ltd – The Facebook page for the alcoholic drink, WKD showed various ads that broke the rules because they implied alcohol could enhance confidence, was integral to the success of a social event, or was capable of changing mood or behaviour.
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