Ofcom today published its revised rules for alcohol advertising on UK television.

In July 2004, Ofcom consulted on proposals to revise the Advertising Standards Code for alcohol television advertising. The responses it got largely supported the overall objectives of the proposal, it said.

However, as far as the detail was concerned, the vast majority of reactions were polarised, with the industry holding one fairly similar set of views and all other respondents (including government bodies and health lobbyists) largely supporting Ofcom's proposals.

Ofcom said that taking account of the comments received, it had simplified the wording of its original proposal.

This included the the rules about reducing the appeal of alcohol advertising to children and young teenagers. Ofcom said these were now more precisely focussed.

But it said: "Ofcom regards this objective as paramount and the full rigour of the consultation proposal has been retained despite industry objections."

The rules restricting sexual content and links in alcohol advertising have been strengthened compared to those which previously applied but Ofcom concluded that it would be appropriate and harmless to allow more creative leeway in this area than the consultation proposed in order to facilitate the move away from advertising styles which will appeal strongly to younger viewers.

"So long as links to youth culture are avoided as the revised "sex" rules require, Ofcom's view is that there is little potential for social harm in alcohol advertising being linked, in a grown-up way, to romance. The new rules will tone down the sexual content of some recent advertising but would still allow responsible treatments involving flirtation and romance between over-25s," a statement said.

Most of the interpretative guidance notes have been removed from the rule-set to be published initially. Many industry respondents objected that the proposed notes were either vague and ambiguous or prescriptive and complicated.

However, the proposed guidance has been removed on the understanding that, once day-to-day responsibility for the regulation of broadcast advertising is delegated to the Advertising Standards Authority and the Broadcast Committee of Advertising Practice (BCAP) on 1 November 2004, it will be promptly redrafted by BCAP.

The new rules will come into force on 1 January 2005, and will apply to all advertising campaigns conceived after that date. However, Ofcom said it accepts that some advertisers are already filming commercials intended for summer 2005 and has decided to allow a grace period, until 30 September 2005 for advertisers who will already have committed themselves to campaigns which may not comply with the revised rules.

Responding to the publication of the Ofcom code, Don Goulding, managing director of drinks company Diageo Great Britain said:  "Diageo Great Britain agrees the time is right to update the alcohol advertising code.  In particular, we support Ofcom's intention to reduce the ambiguity between the letter and spirit of the code. We believe that the new code is firm but fair."

A copy of the code is below:

Final revised alcohol advertising rules

Notes to 11.8:
1. The Notes included with 11.8.1and 11.8.2 are, in general, simply those which clarify the scope of the rules. Additional interpretative guidance will be produced by the Broadcast Committee of Advertising practice, subject to public consultation and to Ofcom's approval

2. The spirit as well as the letter of the rules in this section apply whether or not a product is shown, referred to or seen being consumed. (See also rule 1.2)

3. Where soft drinks are promoted as mixers, rules 11.8.1 & 2 apply in full

11.8.1 - Rules for all advertising
a) 1) Advertisements must not suggest that alcohol can contribute to an individual's popularity or confidence, or that refusal is a sign of weakness. Nor may they suggest that alcohol can enhance personal qualities

2) Advertisements must not suggest that the success of a social occasion depends on the presence or consumption of alcohol.

b) Advertisements must not link alcohol with daring, toughness, aggression or anti-social behaviour

c) Advertisements must not link alcohol with sexual activity or success or imply that alcohol can enhance attractiveness

d) Advertisements must not suggest that regular solitary drinking is acceptable or that drinking can overcome problems

e) Advertisements must not suggest that alcohol has therapeutic qualities nor offer it as a stimulant, sedative, mood-changer or to boost confidence. There must be no suggestion that physical or other performance may be improved by alcohol or that it might be indispensable

f) Advertisements must not suggest that a drink is to be preferred because of its alcohol content nor place undue emphasis on alcoholic strength. (This does not apply to low alcohol drinks. See 11.8.3)

g) 1) Advertisements must not show, imply or encourage immoderate drinking.
This applies both to the amount of drink and to the way drinking is portrayed

2) References to, or suggestions of, buying repeat rounds of drinks are not acceptable

Note: This does not prevent, for example, someone buying a drink for each of a group of friends. It does, however, prevent any suggestion that other members of the group will buy any further rounds

3) Alcoholic drinks must be handled and served responsibly

Note: 11.8.1(g)(1) and (2) do not apply to advertising for low alcohol drinks)

h) Advertisements must not link drinking with the use of potentially dangerous machinery, with behaviour which would be dangerous after consuming alcohol (such as swimming) or with driving

11.8.2 - Additional rules for alcohol advertisements
a) (1) Advertisements for alcoholic drinks must not be likely to appeal strongly to people under 18, in particular by reflecting or being associated with youth culture

(2) Children must not be seen or heard, and no-one who is, or appears to be, under 25 years old may play a significant role in advertisements for alcoholic drinks. No-one may behave in an adolescent or juvenile way

Notes: (1) See the exception in 11.8.2(a)(3)

(2) In advertising for low alcohol drinks, anyone associated with drinking must be, and appear to be, at least 18 years old

(3) There is an exception to 11.8.2(a)(2) for advertisements in which families are socialising responsibly. In these circumstances, children may be included but they, and anyone who is, or appears to be, under 25 must only have an incidental role. Nevertheless, it must be explicitly clear that anyone who appears to be under the age of 18 is not drinking alcohol

b) Advertisements for alcoholic drinks must not show, imply or refer to daring, toughness, aggression or unruly, irresponsible or anti-social behaviour

c) Advertisements for alcoholic drinks must not appear to encourage irresponsible consumption

d) Advertisements for alcoholic drinks must not normally show alcohol being drunk in a working environment

e) Alcoholic drinks must not be advertised in a context of sexual activity or seduction but may include romance and flirtation subject to rule 11.8.2(a) (Youth appeal)

11.8.3 - Low alcohol drinks
Exceptions to 11.8.1 and 11.8.2 apply to advertisements for drinks containing 1.2% alcohol by volume or less so long as the low alcohol content is made clear. (The exceptions are not granted if the advertising might promote a product of higher alcoholic strength or might conflict with the spirit of the rules)

The exceptions are:

(a) 11.8.2(a)(2): Anyone associated with drinking must be, and appear to be, at least 18 years old

(b) The advertisements need not comply with:
• 11.8.1(f)
• 11.8.1(g)(1) or (2)