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.
Marketers should not link an alcohol product or drinking alcohol with brave, tough or, daring people or behaviour. References to prowess, aggression or anti-social or unruly behaviour are prohibited by rule 18.4. Suggestions that an alcohol product or drinking alcohol is a sign of maturity or masculinity are also prohibited by the Code.
What constitutes a link?
In 2014, the ASA held that a TV ad which depicted a group of friends driving in icy and difficult conditions and surfing in very rough, cold conditions breached the Code because it featured alcohol and potentially dangerous activities which required bravery and daring. This was despite the fact the group were not seen drinking until after the activities (Mast-Jagermeister UK Ltd, 30 July 2014). An ad does not have to show people drinking to be considered to be linking alcohol with bravery and tough behaviour. In 2005, the ASA upheld a complaint about an ad that showed the scarred torso of a matador. The ASA concluded that by focusing on the scars, the ad linked alcohol with brave and daring behaviour (Scottish Courage Ltd, 27 July 2005). Similarly, in 2011, the ASA upheld complaints about an ad featuring a free-runner. Although the man was not shown drinking, the ASA concluded that the clear association between an alcoholic drink and potentially dangerous, extreme moves breached the Code (Cell Drinks, 3 August 2011).
Even when they use humour, marketers can sometimes fall foul of the Code. In 2009, the ASA decided that the phrase “Take Courage, my friend” was unacceptable because, although light-hearted, it implied that alcohol could provide the drinker with Dutch courage, confidence or comfort (Wells & Young Brewing Company Ltd, 15 April 2009). Another ad featured a man bungee jumping from a crane to compete in an apple bobbing competition. He successfully bobbed for an apple and another man said “It’s good... but it's not quite Carling". The bungee jumper was then jerked back up into the air. Although the ASA considered that the ad clearly featured an activity which would require a degree of courage to perform, it also took into consideration the fact that the bungee jumper was not shown consuming alcohol at any point and that he was bobbing for an apple rather than alcohol. Due to the fantastical nature of the scene, the complaint was not upheld. However, advertisers should be wary of taking this as carte blanche to feature people or behaviour that could be interpreted as brave, tough or daring - even in a fantastical way - in alcohol ads, as decisions as to whether such ads are problematic are likely to be finely balanced (Molson Coors Brewing Company (UK) Ltd, 18 December 2013).
Although the ASA receives comparatively few complaints about this aspect of the Code, CAP has reminded several marketers about these provisions when proposed ads are submitted to the Copy Advice team. Asking whether drinkers “can handle it” or are “up for it”; including warnings about the product’s strength; using macho-type images; or suggesting that an alcohol product could contribute to enhancing personal confidence, are likely to render ads a problem (Soho Drinks Ltd, 14 August 2002). In 2006, a complaint about an ad that featured the headline “The bottle to be different” was not upheld because the ASA considered that the claim merely referred to drinkers breaking with stereotype and did not link alcohol with brave, tough or daring people or behaviour (Carlsberg UK Ltd, 8 February 2006). Generally, however, the Copy Advice team advises against referring to “bottle” in a way that can be interpreted as “mettle”.
Marketers should also take care not to imply that refusing drinks or drinking responsibly is a sign of weakness (Rule 18.1).