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 Advertising Standards Authority.
Ads for alcoholic drinks may give factual information about the strength of the product but must not imply that a drink may be preferred because of its high alcohol content or intoxicating effect. In order to avoid doing so, ads should not place undue emphasis on the product’s ABV.
Advertisers should remember that the only permitted nutrition claims for alcoholic drinks are “Low-alcohol”, “reduced alcohol” and “reduced energy” (and any claims likely to have the same meaning to a consumer). There are no nutrition claims permitted on the basis of high alcohol content. For more on this see Alcohol: Health, diet and nutritional claims.
The ASA ruled that the headline “It's crisp, refreshing & 5%” was acceptable because there were no other references to the alcoholic strength of the product and they did not consider any of the claims to be suggesting that the product was preferable because of its alcohol content. This led them to conclude that the inclusion of the ABV was a simple factual statement rather than an encouragement to choose the product because of its strength (Anheuser-Busch Europe Ltd - 17 September 2008).
On the other hand, “THE WORLD'S STRONGEST BEER" and "SAY GOODBYE TO BORING BEER!" were ruled to place undue emphasis on a product's high alcoholic strength and imply that the product was preferable. Claims such as these or claims like "The alcohol is very strong but the beer still tastes like a beer rather than a spirit" and "so strong that we have put a warning label on the neck" are very unlikely to be acceptable (Brewmeister Ltd – 24 September 2014).
Previously, the claim “At 5.4% it’s near the knuckle” was considered acceptable in the context of being seen as a playful reference to the product’s name, ‘Bishops Finger’, rather than implying that the product should be preferred because of its high alcohol content (Shepherd Neame Ltd, 25 October 2006). However, the ASA might not reach the same conclusion if faced with a similar approach today and advertisers should be aware that humour is unlikely to act as a defence to claims which ultimately imply that a product is preferable because its alcohol content is high.
Advertisers should be mindful of the current political context when featuring the strength of their alcoholic drinks.