The popularity of low- and no-alcohol drinks has increased in recent years, with more and more brands joining the market. There are various rules that apply to ads for alcoholic drinks, including that they must be socially responsible and contain nothing that is likely to lead people to adopt styles of drinking that are unwise.
Read on for more about how these drinks are covered by the Codes and where marketers should take particular care.
What are ‘alcoholic drinks’?
For the purposes of applying the rules in the Alcohol section of the CAP Code, an alcoholic drink contains more than 0.5% ABV. Ads that feature or refer to drinks above this threshold are subject to the Alcohol rules.
The rules also apply to ads that aren’t specifically for alcoholic drinks, but that have the effect of promoting them – such as ads for soft drinks that are positioned as mixers. Marketers with standard and alcohol-free drinks that share branding should consider whether their alcohol-free product ads might have the effect of promoting their standard product as well.
CAP understands that the use of descriptors such as ‘alcohol free’ and ‘low-alcohol’ are subject to official guidance.
In terms of the official guidance, the descriptor ‘alcohol free’ should only be used on drinks from which the alcohol has been extracted if it contains no more than 0.05% ABV. Where a product has had the alcohol extracted but it remains above 0.05% ABV but at or below 0.5% ABV, the descriptor would be ‘de-alcoholised’.
Marketers should, however, take care not to mislead consumers by implying that a product contains no alcohol at all if it contains any. For some consumers, whether for health, religious, or other reasons, the presence of a small amount of alcohol may be material information.
Although the ASA has not formally ruled on such a circumstance, marketers are best advised to take a cautious approach when marketing a drink that is usually alcoholic but has been adjusted to bring it below the 0.05%/0.5% ABV threshold. For instance, we would recommend that ads also contain a reference to the ABV alongside any ‘alcohol free’ or similar claims.
The Codes define ‘low alcohol’ drinks as being stronger than 0.5% ABV up to and including 1.2% ABV. Drinks that are stronger than 1.2% ABV but lower than the average drink of the same type may not be marketed as ‘low alcohol’.
The Alcohol rules still apply to low-alcohol drinks but only low-alcohol drinks may be positioned as preferable for their (lower) alcoholic strength. The circumstances under which this may be done are currently subject to consultation; current rules state that this type of claim may only be made in ads that do not also promote a product above 1.2% ABV.
Definitions and legal status
Some alcoholic drinks, such as specific spirits and wine, must meet certain criteria to bear that name. Although the ASA has not yet considered marketing for drinks that do not meet the required standards for specific names, the Codes prohibit marketers from implying a product may legally be sold if this is not the case. As such, marketers seeking to advertise a low- or no-alcohol version of a traditional spirit or wine should take care with how they refer to their product if it would not meet the requirements to be legally sold under that name.