Alcohol advertising watchdog reports record number of breaches with social media the key culprit

The alcohol advertising watchdog has warned brands to closely monitor their packaging and historical social media posts following a record number of breaches in the final quarter of 2019.

The Alcohol Beverages Advertising Code (ABAC) recorded 22 breaches of its standards, from 39 determinations, the highest quarterly figures in 21 years.

Most of the breaches related to social media marketing, with packaging that may appeal to minors and which could be confused with soft drinks among the complaints upheld.

ABAC said there was an “unusually” high number of breaches where ads suggested the consumption of alcohol was acceptable before or during activities.

In one social media post, for Pirate Life, a can of beer was pictured under water while the drinker was swimming with sharks.

Pirate Life, acquired by CUB in 2017, was responsible for seven of the breaches. Another breach, on an Instagram video, saw a mountain biker consume a beer and carry on riding.

Other brands which flouted standards included Poptails, with ABAC ruling the packaging failed to show it was alcoholic and could be mistaken for icy poles which are popular with children.

And in another social media post, for Brewdog, ABAC said it conveyed the message that strong beer could help overcome ‘Monday blues’.

Meanwhile, the Woolshed on Hindley was reprimanded for encouraging binge drinking after an ad for free drinks carried the wording ‘I think I’ve sprained my liver’.

“Unusually, this quarter saw a number of breaches related to marketing that implied it is acceptable to consume alcohol before undertaking activities that require a high degree of alertness or physical co-ordination, such as swimming, cycling and driving,” ABAC chairman Harry Jenkins said.

“Alcohol consumption in conjunction with these activities is inconsistent with the intent of the Code.

“Other breaches this quarter included packaging that was found to have strong or evident appeal to minors, including potential confusion with soft drink or confectionary products.”

In light of the spate of packaging breaches, ABAC has published an Alcohol Packaging Compliance Guide which Jenkins urged alcohol manufacturers to read.

ABAC also noted that a number of complaints related to social media posts that were several years old.

“It is important to audit a brand’s entire digital marketing presence, particularly when purchasing a new brand,’ the watchdog said in its quarterly report.

Jenkins added: “It is important that agencies and staff developing social media for alcohol producers, distributors and retailers are familiar with ABAC standards and understand the need to market alcohol responsibly.

“While social media is still a relatively new area of marketing, it is well enough established that marketers should be complying with ABAC rules. The ABAC website is a good place to start. It includes resources that can assist, including detailed Guidance Notes and a Best Practice Guide for Digital Alcohol Marketing.”


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