A wee dram of advice on alcohol promotions in Scotland

We’ve seen a notable increase in the number of enquiries about alcohol promotions in Scotland. Generally speaking, most common alcohol promotions are a no-go, including BOGOFs and bulk discounts, but this is due to legislation rather than our rules.  As such, and because we are unable to give legal advice, there is a limit on the extent to which we can advise on these issues.  That said, we wanted to share what we could in terms of how our rules operate around this.

In October 2011, faced with concerning alcohol misuse statistics, the Scottish Government clamped down on alcohol promotions in all off-licenced premises (that is, supermarkets, convenience shops, specialist shops etc.). These restrictions mean these establishments are unable to offer discounts or promotions (such as “Buy One Get One Free”, “2 for £5”, etc.) on alcohol to Scottish consumers.

As the UK Advertising Codes apply to the advertising and wider administration of legally permitted promotions, this legislation was not written into the Codes.  This means that the ASA is not responsible for enforcing the legislation or restrictions, and we therefore cannot comment on these matters specifically. However, as such promotions are legally permitted in other regions of the UK, there are areas – such as targeting, placement and misleadingness – where our rules do come into play.

Rule 1.10.1(CAP) and rule 1.3.1 (BCAP) make clear that advertisers should not imply a product can be legally sold if it cannot and the rules in the Misleading Advertising sections of both Codes require that ads do not mislead consumers materially.  This means that no ad for an alcohol promotion, through its content or targeting/placement, should imply that it is, or might be, available in Scotland.

Placement and targeting of ads is key – where possible, advertisers and media owners should try their best to ensure that alcohol promotions that aren’t available in Scotland aren’t advertised there. In practice this means avoiding media that could reasonably be considered ‘Scottish Media’, such as newspapers only available in Scotland or websites which primarily target a Scottish audience.

Where the media isn’t ‘Scottish Media’ but is nevertheless likely to be seen by Scottish consumers, for example, UK-wide publications or channels, then advertisers should include a disclaimer making explicitly clear that the promotion is not available in Scotland/Scottish stores.

A disclaimer is not always necessary however – if, for instance, the promotion will only appear in non-Scottish regional media, and therefore the ad will only be seen or heard in that regional context, then advertisers may be able to skip the disclaimer. Examples such as this will always be considered on a case-by-case basis.

When it comes to running alcohol promotions which may be seen by consumers in Scotland, we would always urge marketers to seek legal advice to ensure full compliance with the legislation - not least because issues around alcohol consumption remain high on the Scottish Government’s agenda. 

Our guidance note can be found here.

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