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 must not show or imply that alcohol is a key component for the success of a relationship or a social event (rule 18.3). Although drinkers may obviously be shown in a group setting and alcohol can be conveyed as a legitimate accompaniment to a social occasion, marketers should not unduly emphasise the role alcohol might play. If an otherwise dull party becomes a social triumph as a result of alcohol, the ad will almost certainly breach the Code.

The ASA has investigated a number of complaints about ads in which alcohol was seen as the major component in social intercourse.  As an example, the ASA upheld a complaint about a cinema ad that showed a party on a station platform. It concluded that the ad was irresponsible because alcohol consumption was portrayed as the main reason for the party and for its success (Bacardi-Martini Ltd, 19 January 2005). 

Similarly, in 2016, the ASA investigated whether the claims “Moments that might be made more fun with a bottle of Freixenet fizz” and “Somehow any moment is made just that bit more fun, just that bit more exciting and crazy, when it’s accompanied with our bubbles” on an alcohol manufacturer’s website were likely to suggest that alcohol was the key component to the success of a social event. The ASA upheld the complaint, because they concluded that the alcohol was presented as essential, rather than a legitimate accompaniment to occasions (Freixenet UK Ltd, 11 May 2016).

Conversely, complaints were received about a Carling campaign that featured the strapline “Belong” – one featuring flocking starlings, and a second, which showed a silhouette of several individuals wearing space suits and the text "YOU KNOW WHO YOUR MATES ARE". The complainants challenged whether the ads implied that alcohol was integral to successful socialising and belonging to a social group. The ASA considered that the ads would be viewed as referring to a spirit of togetherness rather than suggesting that alcohol was a reason for the success of any personal relationship or social event, and therefore did not uphold the complaints (Coors Brewers Ltd, 7 May 2008).

In a similar vein, in 2016, the ASA did not uphold a complaint about a Youtube video ad. The ad showed young people taking selfies and getting ready for a night out, a wedding and a party respectively, and featured claims such as “bring wherever you’re from”, “bring wherever you’re headed”, “bring your light”, “bring moves” in neon writing. The advertiser defended the ad, stating that the individuals were already happy and popular irrespective of the presence or consumption of alcohol, and there were limited references to alcohol in the ad, aside from a brief scene that showed a toast. The ASA concluded that the ad did not breach the Code; they noted that all characters seemed happy and excited before their events, and the slogans were likely to be interpreted as a reference to the characters bringing “themselves” (their personalities) to the event (Diageo Great Britain, 19 October 2016).

Whether or not something breaches the Code in this way can often be a fine line - marketers who are unsure whether their ads are likely to breach the Code are invited to contact the Copy Advice team.

See also Alcohol: General, Alcohol: Sex and Personal Relationships, Alcohol: Boredom and Loneliness and Alcohol: Juvenile or adolescent behaviour.

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