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.
Ads featuring alcohol should not irresponsibly link it with activities or locations in which drinking would be unsafe or unwise, in line with rule 18.12. In particular, they must not link alcohol with the use of potentially dangerous machinery or driving and only in exceptional circumstances can an ad feature people drinking alcohol at work. As with other rules in Section 18: Alcohol, this applies whenever alcohol is featured or referred to in an ad, even if it isn’t directly advertising an alcoholic product.
Showing alcohol in locations where its consumption would be illegal or prohibited is very unlikely to be acceptable; for example on the London Underground network or a London bus, or inside a football stadium in view of the pitch during a match. However, creating a clear separation between any alcohol shown and the activities or locations where consumption would be unsafe or unwise may make an ad more likely to be acceptable.
In terms of locations, marketers should be aware that whilst simply featuring a beach, the sea, a mountain or similar in their alcohol ad is not likely to automatically breach the Code, since the wording of the rule states “Marketing communications must not link alcohol with activities or locations in which drinking would be unsafe or unwise”, they should be cautious when showing these places, as the ASA might take a strict view, even if the ad does not depict the consumption of alcohol. Since this can be a nuanced area, marketers are strongly urged to seek a view from the Copy Advice team in the first instance.
Driving is perhaps the most obvious example of a situation where drinking would be unsafe and unwise. However, merely featuring a vehicle in an ad for (or which also features) alcohol is unlikely, in itself, to breach the Code. An ad which featured a close-up image of a woman sitting in the passenger seat of a vintage left-hand drive car and who had written an alcohol brand in the condensation on the window, was ruled to be acceptable because the ASA noted that no driver was shown and the woman was not drinking, and as such they concluded that there was no link between alcohol and driving (Miller Brands (UK) Ltd, 4 January 2012). However, it's worth noting ads do not necessarily need to show someone drinking whilst driving to be considered a breach of this rule, as in the past the ASA has considered that featuring someone drinking alcohol whilst sitting in the passenger seat of a car linked alcohol with driving (AU Vodka Ltd, 30 June 2021).
In addition, showing images of people who are holding alcoholic drinks as well as car keys is very unlikely to be acceptable (Hi Spirits t/a Antica Sambuca, 9 January 2013). Similarly, an ad which featured a film still showing a character slumped against the outside of a car with one leg inside it, in combination with the text “‘I DON'T WANT TO DIE SOBER’ - Jordan Belfort”, was ruled to link the consumption of alcohol with driving and therefore breach the Code (Koosday Events Ltd, 9 July 2014).
Swimming and water sports have also been considered under this rule and showing or referring to drinking while in charge of a boat is unlikely to be acceptable; as is directly linking the consumption of alcohol with swimming, surfing or other activities conducted on or in bodies of water (The Whitbread Beer Company, 3 November 1999).
A cinema ad which showed people holding beer bottles at a beach party immediately before a scene of them rushing towards the sea and jumping into the waves was partly upheld against because it was considered that viewers were likely to infer that the characters had been drinking alcohol before going swimming at night. However, it’s interesting to note that earlier scenes featuring them riding motorbikes, jumping from a yacht and skinny dipping were ruled to be acceptable as the ASA considered that they were unlikely to be interpreted as directly chronological or linked to the scenes featuring alcohol, and that viewers would understand that those activities had occurred at separate times (Wells & Young Brewing Company Ltd, 30 November 2011).
Since water is a relatively common theme in alcohol advertising, again, marketers are urged to contact the Copy Advice team for a view.
Sporting and other physical activities may, generally speaking, be featured provided that there is no particular appeal to under 18s or a link with daring behaviour or aggression (see Alcohol: Challenges, Bravery and Machismo). For example, an ad which showed the wounded torso of a bullfighter was ruled against because, by focusing on his scars, the ASA felt that it linked alcohol with a dangerous sport in which the consumption of alcohol would be unwise (Scottish Courage Ltd, 27 July 2005).
Other activities which marketers should exercise caution around include skiing and horse racing, unless the portrayal is highly fantastical and no consumption of alcohol is shown or implied (Heineken UK Ltd, 11 March 2015).
Less ‘extreme’ or ‘dangerous’ sports (such as golf, football and tennis), seem likely to present much less of an issue under this rule, provided there is clear separation between the sport and the alcohol and no consumption is shown.
Marketers are also reminded they should not imply that alcohol can enhance physical capabilities – see Alcohol: Enhanced sporting, mental and physical capabilities.
Alcohol marketers should be cautious about showing activities such as mountaineering, rock climbing or hiking on difficult terrains. In 2021, the ASA considered a complaint about two online ads which featured the claim “What better way to celebrate the launch of batch #2 than with a whisky tasting at 3500ft? “ and showed whisky being poured into tumblers and into a flask on a mountain. Though the ASA acknowledged that no one was actually showed consuming whisky in the ads, the claim and the shots of whiskey being poured implied that alcohol had been consumed on the mountain, after which the climbers would have to descend in treacherous weather on difficult terrain. The complaint was therefore upheld (RR Whisky Ltd, 7 April 2021).
Similarly, showing activities like parkour or free running is likely to be viewed as linking alcohol with daring and potentially quite dangerous behaviour and activities that would be unwise (Cell Drinks, 3 August 2011).
The rule specifically refers to dangerous machinery so linking alcohol with the use of power tools or industrial machinery is, in most cases, unlikely to be acceptable.
However, an ad for an alcoholic drink which featured scenes of two men engaged in DIY using a power drill was judged to be acceptable, due to the clear separation between this scene and the only reference to alcohol in the final scene (Beverage Brands (UK) Ltd, 30 May 2007). As always, context and final execution is key.
Showing people consuming alcohol at work, or suggesting that they should do so, is very likely to breach the Code.
In 2023, the ASA investigated an ad on Instagram for a whisky. The ad features a half-full bottle of whisky and a woman in overalls in front of a car with an open bonnet. The caption read “smokeheadwhisky Working hard or hardly working? Brilliant snap, keep em’ coming”. The ASA thought it likely that those seeing the ad would assume the woman was a mechanic working on the car, and as such, she would be likely to have to operate machinery, including the car if she had to move it. Given the caption and the image of the half bottle, the ASA concluded that the post implied the woman was drinking whilst working and therefore the ad breached the Code (Ian Macleod Distillers Ltd, 21 September 2022).
Although considered under the rules related to unwise styles of drinking, an e-mail for a wine bar promotion which encouraged people to hold their breakfast meetings at the bar and enjoy a glass of wine with their food to make the meeting more interesting was ruled to encourage an irresponsible drinking practice (Corney & Barrow Wine Bars Ltd, 16 March 2011).
Even if people are not actually working, the ASA has upheld complaints against alcohol ads showing people acting irresponsibly and unsafely in an office environment (Beverage Brands, 9 June 2004).
An ad that showed a party on a train station platform was ruled not to breach the Code by showing alcohol consumption in an unsafe location because the ad showed a fantasy event (Bacardi-Martini Ltd, 19 January 2005). However, it seems fair to say that a more realistic depiction is unlikely to be considered acceptable.
Directly linking alcohol consumption to the handling and use of fireworks is very likely to be problematic, while linking it to the viewing of a fireworks show is more likely to be acceptable.
As above, the acceptability of ads featuring potentially unwise locations and/or activities can be nuanced, and those marketers who are unsure if their ad could breach the Code are encouraged to contact the Copy Advice team.
See, Alcohol; General, Alcohol: Unwise or Excessive Consumption, Alcohol: Targeting and Appeal to Under 18s, Alcohol: Handling and Serving, Alcohol: Boredom and Loneliness and Alcohol: Juvenile or adolescent behaviour.