Who: The Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) and Novielo London
Where: United Kingdom
When: 7 June 2023
Law stated as at: 5 July 2023
The ASA recently upheld a complaint against Novielo London, a retailer of home items, for two adverts which featured a novelty lookalike prescription label advertised to be stuck onto a bottle of wine. The ASA found the ads breached its rules around alcohol.
The first ad appeared on a post on Novielo London’s social media page which featured an image of a green prescription label stuck on a bottle of wine. The novelty prescription label showed the words “Prescription Alcohol” next to a green pharmacy cross. The caption suggested it was “the perfect mother’s day gift” and stated “a bottle a day, keeps the doctor away“. A close up of the label showed that it had a section entitled “Dose” which stated “Drink one 175ml dose twice daily. If symptoms persist, take double the dose stated. In extreme cases consume entire bottle in one sitting”.
Text underneath on the “prescription label” said “SIDE EFFECTS: May include Silliness, Vomiting, Loss of Memory, Lots of Laughter & Extreme Sleepiness”.
The second ad was on Novielo’s own website for the same product. The website description included “Just peel this prescription and add the label to a bottle of wine. Perfect for a gift or to have some fun at Christmas! Sadly the wine is not included in the price of this.”
The UK Code of Non-broadcast Advertising and Direct & Promotional Marketing (CAP Code) provides that marketing communications must be socially responsible and should not encourage excessive drinking (Rule 18.1). Marketing communications must also not imply that alcohol has therapeutic qualities (Rule 18.7).
The ASA considered that the wording used on the novelty product such as “if symptoms persist, take double the dose stated. In extreme cases consume entire bottle in one sitting” (own emphasis added) alongside the product being attached to a bottle of wine, encouraged excessive consumption of alcohol.
By further listing symptoms such as “vomiting“, “loss of memory” along with “silliness” and “lots of laughter“, the ASA also found that the ads made light of the effects of consuming an excessive amount of alcohol. Thus, the ASA concluded that the ad was irresponsible and breached Rule 18.1.
In addition, the ASA considered that although consumers would understand that the product was not a genuine prescription, the ad nevertheless made a link between alcohol and medicine due to the similarity in appearance to an authentic prescription label, the use of a green pharmacy cross and references to terminology such as “patient name“, “dose“, “side effect“. The ASA therefore concluded that the ads implied that alcohol had therapeutic qualities, breaching Rule 18.7.
Lastly, Novielo London did not respond to the ASA enquiries, and thus the ASA also found they breached Rule 1.7 of the CAP Code (unreasonable delay in responding to the ASA’s enquiries). Due to Novielo London’s lack of response, the social media platform where the ad appeared was also notified and the relevant ad was removed from their platform in the UK. Novielo London has also been referred to the CAP’s compliance team.
Why this matters:
The ruling highlights the continued strict approach that the ASA takes with any ads deeming to promote irresponsible consumption of alcohol – not only when advertisers are marketing an alcohol product directly, but also any alcohol-associated product.
Additionally, although the product was marketed as a novelty product and the ASA recognised that the product would unlikely mislead consumers into thinking it was a genuine medicine, the ASA still found the ads to imply that alcohol had therapeutic qualities. This serves as a reminder to advertisers to act cautiously even where they don’t intend their novelty products to be taken seriously by consumers, particularly in relation to alcohol and medicines which are both highly regulated goods.
Lastly, the collaboration between the ASA and the social media platform to remove the ad from it (without Novielo London involvement), demonstrates the ASA’s wider methods for enforcement and the importance of responding to the ASA’s enquiries.