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.
The Code states “Marketing communications must neither link alcohol with seduction, sexual activity or sexual success nor imply that alcohol can enhance attractiveness… [and] must not imply that drinking alcohol is a key component of the success of a personal relationship or social event. The consumption of alcohol may be portrayed as sociable or thirst-quenching” (Rules 18.5 and 18.3).
Marketers often require guidance on the interpretation of these rules. As always, much will depend on the execution but marketers should bear these in mind:
i) does the alcohol, implicitly or explicitly, make one or more characters in the ad more sexually attractive?
ii) does the alcohol seem to improve sexual activity in some way?
iii) does the alcohol seem to play a role in sex, for example, by being linked, implicitly or explicitly, with foreplay or sexual intimacy?
iv) does the alcohol seem key to sexual success, for example by removing inhibitions?
v) does the advertisement hint at sexual reward or promiscuity?
vi) does the advertisement link the alcohol with sexual behaviour?
If the answer to any of those questions is ''yes'', marketers might have to think again and revise the ad both to make sure it does not breach the Code and to ensure it is in tune with society's present ideas of responsible alcohol advertising.
Complaints were received about an ad for Belvedere on the grounds that it linked alcohol with sexual success. The ad featured a man seated on a sofa with two women in close physical contact with him, one with her arm around his neck, who appeared to be sexually attracted to him. A partly empty bottle of Belvedere was on the table in front of them. The ASA considered that the ad linked Belvedere with sexual success and therefore the complaint was upheld (Moet Hennessy UK Ltd, 17 December 2008).
The ASA has decided that strong sexual images in advertisements for alcoholic drinks can breach the Code even if nothing directly suggests that the drink enhances the drinker’s sexual capabilities (Diageo Great Britain Ltd, 21 January 2004). When judging a poster for a product called ‘Stiffys Shots’, the ASA ruled that the name of the product could imply enhanced sexual performance; that is a tougher stance than in previous years when, for instance, it ruled that the name ‘Shag’ lager did not breach the Code (Stiffys Shots Ltd, 21 January 2004, and Spirit, Hop & Grape Company Ltd, 17 October 2001).
The ASA has also ruled that an ad that featured a photo of a stereotypical ‘buxom wench’, with the line "I love a good session on the Bishops Finger" played on the connotations of drinking and sexual activity. The ASA considered that the woman's pose was suggestive and concluded that, in combination with the text, it was likely to be seen as linking alcohol with seduction and sexual activity (Shepherd Neame Ltd, 25 October 2006). An ad for Wild Africa Cream Liqueur showed a couple embracing along with the text “Everyone has a wild side to them. Discover yours with Wild Africa Cream” and “unleash your wild side”. The ASA considered that the image of the couple embracing in conjunction with the strapline implied that the woman's alcohol consumption had led to her seducing the man. The ad was considered to link alcohol with seduction and therefore breached the Code (Wild Cape Liqueurs Ltd, 1 July 2009).
In January 2006, the ASA upheld complaints about two Young & Co Brewery ads, in one of which a ram, surrounded and adored by women, was held to personify the drinker. Because the ram was depicted as the centre of social and sexual attention, the ASA considered the ads implied Youngs’ drinkers would be more socially and sexually successful (Young & Cos Brewery Plc, 11 January 2006). However the ASA ruled that a cinema ad for the beer Estrella Damm did not link alcohol with sexual seduction, despite the fact it apparently featured a man and a woman forming a romantic attachment. The ASA considered the length of the ad and the fact that the consumption of alcohol in a social setting was only a comparatively small part of the ad. It also noted that in the romantic scenes there was little or no alcohol shown and therefore concluded that an explicit link between alcohol and sexual seduction did not exist (Wells & Youngs Brewing Company Ltd, 17 November 2010).The Code prohibits marketers from portraying alcohol as enhancing popularity or being a reason for the success of a personal relationship. In 2009, the ASA upheld complaints about an ad that showed a man being served a cocktail by a woman who appeared, from her pose, to be attracted to him. The ASA considered the ad made a clear connection between the drink and the man appearing masculine, glamorous and aspirational. But more recently, the ASA rejected complaints that Chivas Regal ads implied that alcohol could enhance popularity. The ads contained an image of a bottle of whisky along with the text "ANNUAL BONUS: HAVING MORE FRIENDS THAN YOU HAD LAST YEAR". The ASA accepted the advertiser’s argument that the poster was part of a campaign which clearly aimed to encourage people to think beyond financial success and to appreciate and value of personal relationships. The ASA’s decision may well have been different if the campaign posters were not shown together to give the message its particular context (Pernod Ricard UK Ltd, 4 July 2012).