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 18.4 of the CAP Code states “Drinking alcohol must not be portrayed as a challenge. Marketing communications must neither show, imply, encourage or refer to aggression or unruly, irresponsible or anti-social behaviour nor link alcohol with brave, tough or daring people or behaviour”.
In terms of what constitutes a “link”, this depends on the overall context of the ad – however, it’s important to remember that ads don’t need to show someone overtly drinking, or feature the beverage heavily in the ad, to be considered to have a ‘link’ to tough/unruly/daring behaviour. 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). Similarly, in 2011, the ASA upheld complaints about an alcohol 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).
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. Marketers should also take care not to imply that refusing drinks or drinking responsibly is a sign of weakness, and suggestions that an alcohol product or drinking alcohol is a sign of maturity or masculinity are also prohibited.
In 2022, the ASA investigated two online ads for a drinking card game. The ads featured claims like “Warning: This game is NOT for snowflakes”, “UK’s most irresponsible drinking game”, “brutally exciting” and “Not for the faint of heart”, and displayed “dare” cards which featured various alcohol-related dares. The ASA concluded the ads portrayed drinking as a challenge and linked it with brave and daring behaviour (DrunkH Ltd, 14 December 2022).
Marketers are reminded that using fantastical or unrealistic scenarios do not always excuse depictions of bravery/daring/aggression in alcohol ads. In 2019, the ASA investigated an ad for Macallan whisky. The ad featured a man working up the courage to jump of a cliff, and as he falls, he sprouts wings, and the ad states “Would you risk falling ... for the chance to fly?...The Macallan. Make the call”. The ASA considered that whilst fantastical, the ad’s message was one of promoting risky or daring behaviour to reap possible rewards, which made the ad irresponsible (Edrington Distillers Ltd, 10 April 2019).
Similarly, using humour or light-hearted references in these scenarios can also be risky. 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).
Marketers who are unsure if their ad might breach the Code in this way are urged to contact the Copy Advice team.