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Alcohol alternatives – new rules and guidance

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Following a public consultation earlier this year, CAP has announced new rules on alcohol alternative product advertising which will come into force on 14 May 2024. These rules are accompanied by detailed guidance to help advertisers understand where the ASA Council is likely to draw the line in judging whether the advertising rules have been broken.

When the alcohol rules in the CAP and BCAP Codes were developed, the zero-alcohol sector was small, with little advertising. However, in recent years advertising activity for these products has expanded. Although such products are considered non-alcoholic, their advertising often uses imagery redolent of alcohol and mentions drinking occasions. As such, CAP and BCAP have considered how these products should be advertised responsibly and how they intersect with alcoholic products covered by the Codes, meaning new rules and guidance would be helpful to advertisers and provide appropriate protections to consumers.

The new rules will appear in Section 18 of the CAP Code, and Section 19 of the BCAP Code and relate to the promotion of beverages with an ABV at or below 0.5% which are marketed as alternatives to alcoholic drinks. They cover definitions, presentation of ABV statements, responsibility, and targeting and scheduling restrictions. As many of the rules depend on the content of an ad and the context in which it appears, they are accompanied by formal guidance that explains how the rules should be interpreted and applied, including examples of approaches that would not be acceptable.

The guidance covers:

ABV Limits

For the purposes of the Codes, alcohol alternatives products are those at or under 0.5% ABV, which is typically in line with how the alcohol alternatives market broadly describes their ‘alcohol free’ products.

Definition

Alcohol alternatives are non-alcoholic drinks (those at or under 0.5% ABV) that are intended to replace alcoholic drinks in contexts where they would normally be consumed, e.g. non-alcoholic beer. The Codes state that an ad will be subject to the new rules “…if it is likely to be understood by the audience as an ad specifically for an alternative to alcohol, whether in general or as a non-alcoholic version of a particular alcoholic drink…”.

Cross-promotion and Shared Branding

Advertisements might, whether by accident or design, have the effect of promoting alcoholic drinks. A clear example would be promotion of alcohol alternatives alongside alcoholic drinks, as part of a wider brand range or by a retailer. More implicitly, the use of alcohol-related imagery (similar packaging, glassware, or serving styles) without clarity about the alcohol-free nature of the product is likely to be considered to have the effect of promoting alcoholic drinks, even though the product itself is an alcohol alternative. Ads for alcohol alternatives which have the effect of promoting alcoholic drinks or a wider alcoholic brand must comply with the rules relating to alcoholic drinks.

Unsafe Circumstances and Consumption Habits

Alcohol alternatives are useful products for consumers who are unwilling or unable to drink alcohol in some or all circumstances, such as people with underlying health conditions or a designated driver. Ads for alcohol alternatives are not prohibited from depicting these scenarios, provided it is clear in the ad that the product is an alcohol alternative. Advertisers should take care to ensure that it is clear to consumers that, what might appear to be unsafe or inappropriate consumption, is acceptable because the product does not contain alcohol.

The Code rules and guidance will take effect on 14 May 2024, following a six-month grace period to allow advertisers to make necessary changes to their campaigns.

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