The Prezzo ruling serves as a further reminder of the pitfalls when it comes to alcohol advertising and in particular the sensitivities around language. It shows that the wording of an ad strapline can undo an otherwise responsible promotion if it hints at excessive alcohol consumption.
In February and March 2017 Prezzo ran a drinks promotion targeted at young professionals. The promotion entitled customers to unlimited glasses of prosecco for two hours if they paid £15 per head and ordered a main meal. An ASA investigation was launched after it received a complaint that the ad was irresponsible and encouraged excessive drinking.
During the investigation, Prezzo stood by their promotion. They said it had clearly been directed at working professionals and encouraged friends and colleagues to enjoy some prosecco responsibly alongside their main meal. They pointed to the terms of the promotion, which made it clear that prosecco was not left on diners’ tables, with waiting staff topping up glasses at their discretion. The T&Cs also stated that Prezzo reserved the right to refuse service to anyone who appeared intoxicated.
The ASA was not convinced by Prezzo’s case and it upheld the complaint. Despite Prezzo’s protestations, it found that expressions used in the ad such as “bottomless” and “free flowing” were likely to encourage excessive drinking. This impression was emphasised by an image that portrayed prosecco cascading into several glasses.
In general terms, the ASA took the view that the ad encouraged people to party and drink to excess, despite the terms of the promotion that sought to limit the amount of alcohol consumed. It told Prezzo to make sure that future advertising does not encourage customers to adopt styles of drinking that were unwise.
The ASA ruling shows yet again that bars and restaurants should take extra care when planning any kind of advertising or promotion that relates to alcohol, particularly anything that suggests an “all-you-can-drink” style offering.
To ensure that your promotion complies with the CAP Code, you should consider the following points:
• Advertising copy. Expressions such as “bottomless” and “free flowing” make for good copy, but when used to advertise alcohol they are likely to cause problems with the ASA. In this case, they undermined the genuine attempts Prezzo had taken to ensure customers drank responsibly.
• Use of images. As with language, images should be selected carefully to create the impression of responsible drinking. By showing pictures of cascading prosecco and glasses clinking together, Prezzo cancelled out their assertion that the offer was to encourage drinking alongside a main meal. A balance of food and drink is generally recommended in images accompanying alcohol promotions.
• T&Cs. The ASA will look at the ad as a whole to consider the overall impression it is likely to have on the consumer. This means that T&Cs aimed at ensuring customers drink in moderation may well be undermined by the more eye-catching elements of the campaign.
As a general point, any advertising material promoting the sale of alcohol should be subject to internal sign-off by someone who is familiar with the CAP Code and the risks involved.
Every restaurant is bound by the Committee of Advertising Practice Code (the CAP Code) and any restaurant that falls foul of this can face a number of sanctions. The ASA will typically order the business to stop or change an ongoing advertising campaign – which can result in wasted investment for marketing campaigns that are intended to run over a long period of time. The ASA can also require non-compliant businesses to go through the time consuming process of pre-vetting future advertising material for up to two years. ASA rulings are also widely reported, which can bring unwanted negative publicity. It is important to note that the ASA has jurisdiction to investigate almost all types advertising material, including print, broadcast, social media and online. Advertisers’ own websites are also subject to the CAP Code.