UK: Alcohol Advertising Rules – Are You Up-To-Date?

Last Updated: 1 December 2005
Article by Katrina Lajunen


New rules regarding the advertising of alcohol in print media in the UK came into force on 1 October 2005. These rules replace entirely the previous rules related to alcohol advertising set out in the British Code of Advertising, Sales Promotion and Direct Marketing (the CAP Code).

1 October was also the date by which all TV advertising had to comply with new TV alcohol advertising rules published by Ofcom last year. While the TV alcohol advertising rules have been in force since 1 January 2005, advertisers that were already committed to campaigns were given a grace period until 30 September 2005 to comply with the new rules. The TV alcohol advertising rules are also supplemented by detailed guidance notes drawn up by the Broadcast Committee of Advertising Practice (BCAP).

Set out below is a summary of some of the changes which are likely to have the most impact on advertisers.


The new alcohol rules in the CAP Code for non-broadcast advertisements include the following provisions:

  • Alcohol must not be handled or served irresponsibly
  • The spirit as well as the letter of the alcohol rules should be applied whether or not a product is shown referred to or seen being consumed in the advertisement
  • People playing a significant role in an advertisement should neither be, nor look, under 25 even if they are not drinking. (The previous rule regarding the age of models in advertisements was restricted to the people shown drinking)
  • People shown drinking or playing a significant role should not be shown behaving in an adolescent or juvenile way
  • Advertisements for alcohol should not be associated with people under 18 or reflect their culture
  • Advertisements should not suggest that alcohol can change moods or enhance confidence
  • Advertisements must not link alcohol with seduction, sexual activity or sexual success (the previous rules only prohibited the suggestion that alcohol can enhance sexual capabilities)
  • Advertisements should not suggest that drinking alcohol is a reason for the success of any personal relationship or social event (the previous rule prohibited advertisements that portrayed drinking alcohol as the main reason for the success of a personal relationship/social event)
  • Advertisements should not show, imply or refer to aggression, or unruly, irresponsible or anti-social behaviour
  • Alcohol should not normally be shown in a work environment, and
  • Care should be taken to ensure that marketing communications for sales promotions requiring multiple purposes do not encourage excessive consumption (the previous rules required that care be taken to ensure such marketing communications did not actively encourage excessive consumption.)


The new television alcohol advertising rules were drafted with the intention of toughening up the previous rules regarding:

  • linking alcohol with anti-social behaviour
  • advertisements for alcohol that appeal to young people
  • sexual content of advertisements for or containing alcohol, and
  • the irresponsible handling and/or serving of alcohol.

While not all of the rules have been amended (or amended substantially) there are now guidance notes covering each of the rules. The guidance notes give specific examples of the types of activities that are intended to be prohibited by the rules and, in some cases, examples of what is not intended to be prohibited.

Set out below is a summary of the rules (and accompanying guidance notes) which fall under the four topics set out above.


Rule: Advertisements must not link alcohol with daring, toughness, aggression or anti-social behaviour.

This rule is almost identical to the previous rule, save that the word "drinking" has been replaced with "alcohol" and the reference to "bravado" has been deleted. During the consultation, Ofcom proposed that the word "link" be changed to "associate" as the word "link" had been interpreted as requiring that the daring, toughness etc to be preceded by drinking alcohol. However, while this change was not made to the rule, the guidance provides that this rule applies "whether or not alcohol consumption is seen or implied". Consequently, advertisements that indirectly link alcohol to daring, toughness etc will be prohibited.

The guidance to this rule also gives examples of what is meant by "daring", "toughness", "aggression" and "anti-social behaviour".

According to the guidance, the "daring" element is designed to prevent associating alcohol with actions considered to be dangerous, foolish, reckless or likely to encourage irresponsible or anti-social behaviour.

The reference to "toughness" prohibits advertisements that suggest people who drink alcohol are tough, macho or resilient and the association of these qualities with a brand.

Threatening or potentially violent attitudes, behaviour or atmospheres are given as examples of "aggression" that are prohibited when linked to alcohol.

While the guidance accepts that "anti-social behaviour" can be interpreted widely, it provides that the phrase will be associated with behaviour that offends against generally accepted social norms and common sense. Specific examples which are given are, non-playful rudeness, excessive boisterousness, and behaviour not normally associated with sobriety. The guidance also suggests that immature, adolescent, childish, boorish and loutish behaviour should be avoided.

Rule: Advertisements for alcoholic drinks must not show, imply or refer to daring, toughness, aggression or unruly, irresponsible or anti-social behaviour.

This rule, which applies to advertisements for alcohol, supplements the rule above which applies to all advertisements. However, the guidance explains that this rule goes further than the general rule as there is no requirement for a "link" between alcohol and the daring, toughness etc. Rather, there is a general prohibition on showing or referring to the attitudes and behaviours set out in this rule.

Threatening or violent behaviour, rowdiness, rudeness, irresponsible or adolescent behaviour and generally ill-disciplined actions and attempts at potentially dangerous activities (whether successful or not) are all stated to be "unruly or irresponsible" behaviour prohibited by this rule.


Rule: Advertisements for alcoholic drinks must not be likely to appeal strongly to people under 18, in particular by reflecting or being associated with youth culture.

The guidance to this rule provides that themes "likely to appeal strongly" to those under 18 should be avoided. While the guidance accepts that it is not possible to provide an exhaustive list of what these themes are, it provides a list of areas where "particular caution" should be exercised. These areas are as follows:

  • Personalities likely to have a strong appeal to the young, such as pop stars, sports people who command particular admiration of the young, television personalities, youth oriented performers and people who are likely to have a strong influence on the behaviour of the young
  • Themes associated with youth culture such as disregard for authority or social norms, teenage rebelliousness, mocking or outwitting authority, immature, adolescent or childish behaviour or practical jokes and any behaviour that seeks to set those under 18 apart from those of an older age group
  • Teenage fashion or clothing mostly associated with those under 18 years old
  • Music or dance likely to appeal strongly to under 18 year olds
  • Language used by the young but rarely by an older generation such as slang or novel words
  • Cartoons, rhymes or animation likely to appeal strongly to children and teenagers
  • Sports, particularly sports which have a strong appeal to the young, such as skateboarding and "extreme sports", and
  • Puppets and cute lovable animals likely to inspire strong affection in the young.

The guidance also states that humour can not be used to circumvent this rule and, in all cases immature, adolescent or childish humour should be avoided.

Rule: Children must not be seen or heard, and no one who is, or appears to be, under 25 years old may play a significant role in advertisements for alcoholic drinks. No-one may behave in an adolescent or juvenile way.

The guidelines to this rule provide that, regardless of age, no one in an advertisement for alcohol may behave in an immature, adolescent or childish manner.

Rule: There is an exception to [the above rule] for advertisements in which families are socialising responsibly. In these circumstances, children may be included but they, and anyone who is, or appears to be, under 25 must only have an incidental role. Nevertheless, it must be explicitly clear that anyone who appears to be under the age of 18 is not drinking alcohol.

The guidelines indicate that this rule allows children to appear in advertisements for alcohol in certain situations, such as advertisements showing a family enjoying a meal or set at a "responsible party" for over 25s, provided that any children featured only play a minor role in the advertisement.


Rule: Advertisements must not link alcohol with sexual activity or success or imply that alcohol can enhance attractiveness.

According to the guidance, this rule prohibits sexual contact, erotic atmospheres and implications of a sexual motive and the use of alcohol as an aid to seduction.

However, the rule does not prohibit a couple sitting together sharing affectionate kisses or glances, nor does it prohibit the use of "glamorous images". Linking alcohol with mild flirtation and romance is also allowed provided that the advertisement does not imply that sex has taken, or is about to take, place (whether through conversation, facial expressions or body language).

It is also permissible to use warm or sensuous images or dialogue to describe alcohol, provided that such advertisements are not linked to sex or sexual motive.

Rule: Alcoholic drinks must not be advertised in a context of sexual activity or seduction but may include romance and flirtation subject to [the youth appeal rule]

This rule, which only applies to advertisements for alcohol, compliments the rule above which applies to all advertisements. However, it goes further as it prohibits alcohol advertising in any context of sexual activity or seduction. While romance and mild flirtation that is gentle and understated between couples who are both over the age of 25 in appearance and behaviour is allowed, any advertisements that imply that their attraction has anything to do with drinking or choosing alcohol is prohibited. The guidance also provides that there must be no suggestion that sex or seduction has taken, or might take, place.


Rule: Alcoholic drinks must be handled and served responsibly

This is a new rule which prohibits handling and dispensing alcohol with reckless abandon. The guidance provides that it is unacceptable to depict:

  • throwing or pouring alcohol over people
  • someone pouring a drink into the mouth of another person, and
  • showing party goers being soaked in champagne.

It is also unlikely to be acceptable to show an inexperienced person trying to make cocktails in an amateurish and uncontrolled way. However, it will be acceptable to depict the panache of a cocktail barman in a controlled situation and the traditional popping of a champagne cork (even if there is some overflow of the champagne).


Rule: Advertisements must not show, imply or encourage immoderate drinking. This applies both to the amount of drink and to the way drinking is portrayed.

Although the wording of this rule follows that of the previous rule, the guidance sets out certain types of behaviour seen as unacceptable under this rule. The depiction of drinking sessions, drinking games, downing drinks in one swallow or excessively quickly and pub crawls are all prohibited. Nor may advertisements show or suggest that excessive amounts of alcohol have been dispensed per person.

While depictions of well-stocked bars and guests arriving carrying alcohol are considered to be acceptable, nothing in the advertisement must imply that immoderate consumption has taken or will take place.

The Department of Health’s Recommended Daily Amounts of alcohol should be taken into account when considering what constitutes an excessive amount of alcohol per person.

Rule: References to, or suggestions of, buying repeat rounds of drinks are not acceptable. (Note: This does not prevent, for example, someone buying a drink for each of a group of friends. It does, however, prevent any suggestion that other members of the group will buy any further rounds.)

The guidance provides that advertisements may show a person buying a drink for friends but clarifies that the advertisement must not suggest that a pattern of round buying is to be, or has been, established. Further, using the word "round" (or an equivalent word) is unacceptable.

Rule: Advertisements for alcoholic drinks must not appear to encourage irresponsible consumption.

This rule, which supplements the rules above, seeks to prevent advertisements which encourage irresponsible alcohol consumption or condone the purchase of amounts of alcohol in excess of that which an individual should safely consume.

Advertisements which refer to multiple-purchases may not imply that those purchases are for consumption by individuals. Nor may advertisements suggest that any individual consumes an unreasonable amount of alcohol on any single drinking occasion.

In considering what would constitute an excessive amount of alcohol, the Department of Health’s Recommended Daily Amounts of alcohol are to be applied.


The rules set out above summarise some of the new rules and guidance notes. It concentrates on the changes which are likely to have the most impact on advertisers. However, the summary above does not include details of all of the rules which must be complied with, nor should it be seen as a substitute for reading the rules themselves. The text of the relevant advertising codes should be referred to and can be downloaded from the ASA’s website at

The content of this article is intended to provide a general guide to the subject matter. Specialist advice should be sought about your specific circumstances.

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