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.
Encouraging juvenile behaviour, such as “laddish” behaviour or anything likely to appeal particularly to adolescents and teenagers, is likely to be frowned upon by the ASA. Depicting, for example, a ‘girls’ night out’ or a guy being a bit of a “rogue” is not in itself a problem, but puerile, anti-social, aggressive or irreverent behaviour is likely to be unacceptable for two reasons: firstly, depicting conduct or actions that could be construed as drunken is likely to be unacceptable for encouraging excessive consumption and, secondly, condoning such behaviour might appeal to the young or daring.
Rules to consider are 18.1, 18.4, 18.14, 18.15 and 18.16. The first rule states “Care should be taken not to exploit the young, the immature or those who are mentally or socially vulnerable”; the next rule relates to linking alcohol with unruly, irresponsible or anti-social behaviour and the final three rules relate to marketing communications featuring or appealing to under-18s.
Ads that show scenarios in which a person’s dialogue or behaviour is mischievous, but no more than playful, might be acceptable. If the motive is for sexual gratification, peer respect, to undermine authority and the like, the ads are likely to be unacceptable.
In 2004, the ASA upheld a complaint about a poster that showed a middle-aged man sitting on a photocopier with his trousers round his ankles. The ASA considered that the ad irresponsibly condoned immature behaviour (Beverage Brands (UK) Ltd, 9 June 2004).
The line between “juvenile” and merely “playful” behaviour is a thin one, and the overall context of an ad can make a difference. In 2016, the ASA upheld a complaint about a Facebook video, because it featured an individual acting in a juvenile fashion. The video, which featured Vine personality Joe Charman, showed him holding three bottles of Hooch, jumping onto an inflatable and travelling across a pool on it. The advertiser argued that Joe Charman was known for these types of skills, and the behaviour was not juvenile nor reckless – however, the ASA disagreed, and said the behaviour was likely to appeal to those under 18 (Global Brands Ltd., 26 October 2016). That same year, the ASA considered a similar scenario – an alcohol ad featuring a man falling backwards into a pool. However, in this second example, the ASA concluded that the man wasn’t shown to be brave or daring, the scene was depicted as “playful” and crucially, the man wasn’t drinking, nor was the act depicted as something that has occurred whilst or after consuming alcohol (Maxxium UK Ltd., 4 May 2016).
Ads that portray drinking as a challenge, or being drunk as something to aspire to, are highly likely to fall foul of the Code. A Facebook page for whiskey, seemingly directed at students, carried such phrases as “the stamp is only valid if you have at least 2 shots per bar you're in, so get your alcohol tolerance up fellow students. There's reputation at hand here!", “All good students know that there's only one way to get as drunk as we want without being broke the next day, and the answer of course, pre drinks” and “Not long before the taxis are due, you stumble over a ... well, you don't stumble over anything actually. You just stumble over” was complained about. The complainant felt that the ads were likely to exploit the young, immature and vulnerable and encouraged excessive drinking; the ASA agreed (Hi Spirits Ltd, 17 July 2013).
Complaints were received about a promotion for a night out. The ad stated "London's biggest pub crawl" and contained references to "a big night out", "party animals" and "massive discounts" on drinks purchased, as well as an invitation to "neck some top-quality grog". It then went on to state “When it's time to party, you should party hard". The ASA considered that the ad gave the impression that the event was one where large amounts of alcohol could be consumed and therefore considered that the encouragement to excessive or immoderate consumption rendered the ad problematic (Time Out Group Ltd t/a Time Out, 10 October 2012).
CAP is aware that sometimes whether something is of particular appeal to under-18s can be nuanced – therefore, marketers are welcome to get a view from the Copy Advice team.