On 12 October 2022, the ASA published its ruling against Bill’s in relation to several alleged breaches of the UK Code of Non-broadcast Advertising and Direct & Promotional Marketing (CAP Code).
The ruling related to a marketing e-mail and website ad for a bottomless prosecco brunch promotion which Bill’s promoted for its restaurant in Soho. The ads featured slogans such as “Bottomless prosecco to beat the heat!” and “Select any item […] and enjoy 90 minutes of unlimited prosecco for just £16.50 per person. What else could you wish for? Our all day brunch menu features naughty favourites […] all washed down with a lovely glass (or several) of prosecco”.
The ASA received two complaints which challenged whether the ads were socially irresponsible because they implied, condoned, or encouraged excessive consumption of alcohol.
In response to the complaints, Bill’s said that they were a restaurant chain (not a purely drink-based establishment) and as such their restaurants were not generally perceived as places where excessive drinking would take place. They believed that the ads made it clear that the promotion was exclusively available with the purchase of a meal. The promotion was also subject to further terms and conditions which aimed to encourage responsible drinking; for example, they stated that a non-alcoholic option was available and the terms expressly encouraged responsible drinking.
Bill’s was also of the view that the ads were neutral and factual in tone and that the phrase “a lovely glass (or several) of prosecco” simply reflected the fact that a consumer was likely to have more than one glass and did not imply that a consumer was being encouraged to drinking at least three glasses or that they might lose track of how much they had drank.
Bill’s did however accept that the ads’ use of phrases like “beat the heat” could be interpreted as encouraging consumers to drink prosecco in hot weather.
The ASA disagreed with Bill’s and upheld the complaint. In doing so the ASA acknowledged that, in principle, ads that used a factual and neutral tone when presenting promotions for unlimited alcohol with a meal would not necessarily encourage excessive drinking but in this instance there were aspects of the ads which in its view encouraged excessive drinking.
In its ruling, the ASA took particular issue with the word “several” in the phrase “a lovely glass (or several) of prosecco“. The ASA was of the view that “several” would be understood to mean drinking at least three glasses in the short period of 90 minutes and was vague so as to risk implying that consumers might lose track of how much alcohol they had consumed.
Another key aspect of the ASA’s ruling was the timing of the ads. The ads were seen during July 2022, during which the UK was immersed in a heat wave and government health guidance was to drink plenty of fluids and avoid excessive alcohol consumption. The ASA considered that the claims in the ads positioned the unlimited prosecco offer as a way of coping with the heat, which was at odds with government guidance.
Why this matters:
The rules in relation to the promotion of alcoholic products are well established and seasoned brands in this space will be well aware of the usual pitfalls in terms of ensuring that their advertising does not encourage excessive consumption of alcohol. However, this ruling is a useful reminder that there can be a fine line between responsible and irresponsible promotions, for example it may turn on specific words (in this instance the word “several“). In addition, brands should consider carefully whether their advertising in special situations (such as a heatwave) is responsible for that situation, including considering the wider picture and any government guidance.