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 that "Marketing communications must not imply that alcohol has therapeutic qualities. Alcohol should not be portrayed as capable of changing mood, physical condition or behaviour or as a source of nourishment..." (Rule 18.7).

'Energising'/'chill'/relaxation claims

Because marketers should not suggest that alcohol is a stimulant; claims such as “energising” are likely to be unacceptable. In 2000, the ASA upheld a complaint that an alcoholic drink should not be described as a “vodka rush” because it implied alcohol could increase drinkers’ energy levels and act as a stimulant. The Code also prohibits implying that alcohol can be a sedative, so references to an alcoholic product being a tranquilliser, or in some other way calming, are problematic.

Addressing or showing people who are in a “normal” state of balance and suggesting alcohol can help them relax may be acceptable – however, marketers should be very wary of these types of claims, as these implications could easily cross the line into unacceptability. Additionally, featuring or encouraging those who are clearly stressed or more anxious than normal to drink alcohol is likely to be interpreted as saying that alcohol is necessary for relaxation, has therapeutic qualities or mental health benefits – all of which are likely to breach rule 18.7 (along with potentially being considered socially irresponsible).

The Copy Advice team has in the past seen several ads that use the word “chill” as a play on how to drink or serve the product. Claims such as “chill with your mates” may be acceptable depending on context – however, marketers should bear in mind that, if the ad implies alcohol can make drinkers more “chilled”, the claim could be the wrong side of the line.

Changes to behaviour

Marketers should also be wary of implying changes to one’s behaviour. An ad that carried the strapline "Unleash your wild side" suggested that Wild Africa Cream Liqueur had changed a woman’s mood and enhanced her confidence - the complaint against it was therefore upheld (Wild Cape Liqueurs Ltd, 1 July 2009).

Marketers should also be aware that humour does not invalidate the need to comply with the Code. In 2019, the ASA upheld a complaint about a tongue-in-cheek Facebook post, which stated “If at first you don’t succeed, try drinking a bottle of prosecco, you’ll be surprised at how much less you’ll care”. Though the ASA acknowledged that this was an attempt to parody a famous proverb, as the ad suggested that prosecco could help one forget their problems, it breached rule 18.7 (Blackrose Ltd, 11 December 2019).

The same year, an ad for Drake & Morgan botanical themed drinks was also upheld. The ad, which took the form of a quiz which concluded by giving users a free voucher for a “potion to match their emotion”, was found to breach Code by asking people to say whether they were “overstretched”, “low-spirited” , “walking on sunshine” etc. and by using terms such as “give yourself a boost” (Drake & Morgan Ltd, 9 October 2019).

Therapeutic activities

Ads that showcase therapeutic activities, but do nothing to link them to the alcohol itself, may be acceptable depending on the final context and overall impression of the ad. In 2020, the ASA did not uphold a complaint about a Bombay Sapphire ad which showed various artists making their own artwork. Because the artists were shown to already be creatively minded (rather than realising the skill after drinking), and because they were not shown consuming alcohol before, during or after their work, the ASA did not consider that the ad linked alcohol with creativity, or otherwise implied that alcohol could enhance creativity or change one’s mood (Bacardi Global Brands Ltd, 8 January 2020). As above, the line between acceptability and unacceptability is completely dependent on context – marketers who are unsure about whether their ad breaches the Code are free to contact the Copy Advice team for a view.

Alcohol as medicine/'healthy'

Marketers should also not imply that alcohol is a “medicine” or necessary for health. In 2023, the ASA upheld an ad for a sticker that was intended to be placed over an existing label on a bottle of wine. The label stated “PRESCRIPTION ALCOHOL” next to the green pharmacy cross, with text underneath that read “PATIENT NAME: Laura Smith….DOSE: Drink one 175ml dose twice daily. If symptoms persist, take double the dose stated. In extreme cases consume entire bottle in one sitting… SIDE EFFECTS: May include Silliness, Vomiting, Loss of Memory, Lots of Laughter & Extreme Sleepiness”. The ASA considered that, whilst customers would understand it was not a real prescription, it linked alcohol to medicine and implied alcohol could be used to maintain good health (Novielo London, 7 June 2023).

Marketers must remember that they should not imply or state that alcohol has any health benefits, promote alcohol on a health platform, or imply that anyone might need (as opposed to merely enjoy) an alcoholic drink. Marketers intending to make health claims should be aware that the guidance in this area is very strict, and should see our Alcohol: Health, Diet and Nutrition Claims in the first instance.

See also Alcohol: General, Alcohol: Boredom and Loneliness and Alcohol: Enhanced Sporting, Mental and Physical Capabilities.

More on