A restaurant in London was recently told by the Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) that their ads breached the Advertising Codes on the basis that they condoned and encouraged the excessive consumption of alcohol and unwise drinking, and were socially irresponsible.
Bill’s Soho, one of the chain’s London restaurants, had seen last summer’s weather as a marketing opportunity and issued adverts headed “Bottomless Prosecco to beat the heat! [two flutes of champagne emoji]”. The body of the ad featured the sub-heading “ENJOY BOTTOMLESS PROSECCO THIS HEATWAVE WEEKEND” and the text stated:
“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”.
A complaint was issued with the ASA, on the question of whether the ads were socially irresponsible because they implied, condoned, or encouraged excessive consumption of alcohol.
Bill’s made the following main comments in response:
- They are a restaurant chain which is generally not perceived by the public as being associated with the excessive consumption of alcohol or as a purely “drink based” establishment.
- The ads made it clear that the Bottomless Prosecco promotion was exclusively available with the purchase of a meal, with the majority of the wording being used to describe and promote the food element of the promotion.
- The phrase "a lovely glass (or several) of prosecco" implied that some consumers would have only one glass with their meal. There was no emphasis on the word 'several' (e.g. through the use of an exclamation mark).
They did not feel that the whole phrase, in context, encouraged excessive drinking.
However, they did accept that the ads’ use of the phrase “beat the heat” or to enjoy bottomless prosecco “this heatwave weekend” could be interpreted as encouraging consumers to drink prosecco in the hot weather.
- They did not intend to encourage or promote excessive drinking or irresponsible behaviour by using those phrases and would not use them in future.
The ASA took the view that the phrase “a lovely glass (or several) of prosecco”, within the context of the offer’s 90-minute duration, condoned and encouraged excessive drinking. In particular, it was noted that “several” would be understood to mean at least three glasses, and that the term’s vagueness risked implying that consumers might lose track of the number of glasses they had consumed.
The ads further positioned the unlimited alcohol offer as a way of coping with the heatwave and implied that prosecco, because it was refreshing, was well suited to consumption in heatwave weather, (which was at odds with government advice). The ads therefore irresponsibly encouraged excessive drinking in circumstances where the excessive consumption of alcohol was especially dangerous.
Bill’s Soho were asked to ensure their ads contained nothing likely to lead people to adopt unwise styles of drinking, including excessive drinking during a heatwave.
Brands should be careful when issuing ads offering bottomless drinks, in particular during a specific duration and in extreme heat. I have to admit that this decision does make me consider my drinking habits, as I don’t believe a glass of prosecco has ever lasted me 90 minutes!...
About the ASA
The Advertising Standards Authority was established in 1961 and is the UK’s independent advertising regulator.
They respond to concerns and complaints from consumers and businesses and take action to ban ads which are misleading, harmful, offensive or irresponsible.
As well as responding to complaints, the ASA monitors ads to check that they are following the rules.
The types of ads they deal with include:
- Press ads
- Radio and TV ads (including teleshopping presentations)
- Ads on the internet, smartphones and tablets
- Ad claims on companies’ own websites
- Commercial e-mail and text messages
- Leaflets and brochures
- Ads at the cinema
- Direct mail
Complaints are assessed against “prioritisation principles” to determine the most appropriate course of action. Under these principles, the ASA will:
- consider what harm or detriment has occurred or might occur;
- balance the risk of taking action versus inaction;
- consider the likely impact of intervention; and
- consider what resource would be proportionate to the problem.
The ASA will contact the advertiser whenever a complaint indicates that an ad might have broken the rules, but may not start a formal investigation into every case (around 80% of complaints do not raise any problems under the rules).