ASA upholds complaint about pub marketing targeting children

Who: Advertising Standards Authority (“ASA”), Greene King Retailing Limited t/a Hungry Horse (Greene King)

Where: UK

When: 2 August 2017

Law stated as at: 16 August 2017

What happened:

The ASA received a complaint from a parent whose child was given a leaflet in their school book bag, promoting a Hungry Horse Pub.

The parent challenged whether the ad was irresponsible because it was directed at children and promoted alcoholic drinks. The leaflet was for a Hungry Horse Pub, promoting a special offer to mark the pub’s re-opening. The front page of the leaflet carried the words “WITH TWO GREAT OFFERS £5 OFF AND A FREE DRINK”. The back of the leaflet contained information about the terms and conditions of the offer, including a list of drinks that were part of the offer, comprising both alcoholic and non-alcoholic drinks.

Greene King argued that the leaflet should not be considered to be an alcoholic promotion. Rather, the aim of the ad was to promote the Hungry Horse Pub as a community based pub that was suitable for families. Greene King argued that if school children were handed the leaflets, it was with a view of encouraging the entire family to dine out in the pub, rather than encouraging underage drinking. Greene King highlighted that the front of the leaflet did not expressly indicate that the drink was intended to be alcoholic and that the only reference to alcoholic drinks was on the back of the leaflet as part of the terms and conditions of the offer. Greene King argued that the reason the terms and conditions included a list of alcoholic drinks was so that consumers were fully aware of the available drinks that were included in the offer. It also emphasised that the terms and conditions stated that alcohol should not be served to anyone under the age of 18 and that proof of ID would be requested.

The ASA upheld the complaint, on the basis that the CAP Code prohibits alcohol adverts – defined as adverts for alcoholic drinks and ads that featured or referred to alcoholic drinks – from being directed at those under 18 years of age. Therefore, even though the only express reference to alcohol was contained within the small print of the terms and conditions, and despite the fact that the leaflet did not contain any alcohol logos or brands, by distributing the leaflet to under 18 year-olds, the advert breached the Code.

Greene King was told to ensure that future marketing communications which promoted alcohol were not directed at those under 18 years of age.

Why this matters:

The prohibition of directing alcohol adverts at those under 18 years of age is obviously nothing new. Of greater interest are the reasons why Greene King produced the leaflet and placed them in school book bags in the first place. A fifth of pubs – or 11,443 –  closed between April 2010 and the end of 2016, the equivalent of four pubs every day (Source: Business Reporter), and almost a quarter of young people in the UK describe themselves as teetotal (Source: The Guardian). As a result, there are good reasons for pubs to move away from their traditional target markets and start focussing on families and communities.

This ruling shows the challenges faced by pubs who are trying to broaden their appeal, as it is clear that the ASA is taking a strict approach to adverts that contain reference to alcohol, even if the reference lies in the terms and conditions.

Marketers should therefore be particularly careful to ensure that these adverts are directed at those aged 18 years or older, even where the message of the advert is to demonstrate that the pub is family friendly.

Recent contributors

Sign up to our newsletter