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.

Rule 18.6 states “Marketing communications must not imply that alcohol might be indispensable or take priority in life or that drinking alcohol can overcome boredom, loneliness or other problems.” Although the ASA receives few complaints about this aspect of the Code, the Copy Advice team frequently advises against marketing communications that are questionable on these grounds. Showing a depressed person sitting with a bottle of booze in one hand and a glass in the other is obviously unacceptable, as are ads that irresponsibly emphasise the importance of alcohol, or suggest that it can be used as a means of dealing with difficult, stressful or boring situations. In 2014, the ASA found that a complaint which showed a pirate raising a glass alongside text which stated “Wednesday. I’m declaring war on mid-week boredom” was problematic for suggesting that drinking could alleviate boredom (Diageo Great Britain Ltd, 23 July 2014).

When considering whether a marketing communication has breached rule 18.6, the ASA will take its tone, and whether its message is likely to be taken literally, into account, but marketers should be careful not to assume humour buys them too much leeway. In 2013, the ASA rejected the advertiser’s argument that ads which stated “I’d dump my boyfriend for more Fireball cinnamon whisky” and “The only thing in life more important to me than Fireball is…” had been written in jest and would not be understood by consumers to mean that alcohol should take priority in life, or that it was indispensable (Hi-Spirits Ltd, 17 July 2013).

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