News Analysis: Alcohol's creative crunch looms

Ofcom's regulatory proposals could seriously restrict drinks companies' advertising options, says Claire Murphy

So it's goodbye to slapstick humour, celebrities, sport, music, fluffy animals and laddish larking about. Creatives might be forgiven for wondering what is left for TV alcohol advertising following the publication of Ofcom's proposed regulations last week.

Few of the drinks ads currently on TV would survive under the new guidelines, which are much tougher than the existing CAP codes for press and poster alcohol ads. The result is likely to be a rise in esoteric imagery on TV, as seen in the current Guinness and Smirnoff spots.

The proposals include a tightening of the rules linking alcohol to sex or social situations. Previously ads could not imply that alcohol is 'essential' to social success; in future they would not even be able to imply that drinking can improve the atmosphere of a social occasion.

Similarly, advertisers cannot currently imply that alcohol 'contributes' to sexual success. Any new rules would specify that alcohol cannot even be associated with sexual activity, unless it is between established, mature couples.

But it is the advertising recommendations aimed at minimising appeal of alcohol to under-18s that could cause the greatest effect on future advertising.

Alcohol consumption would not be able to be presented as anything other than a 'mature, adult pleasure'.

There is a set of notes attached to the clause about minimising alcohol's appeal to children, intended to help interpretation. These notes are not actually part of the proposed regulations; ISBA public affairs director Ian Twinn says this is one of the areas he wants to clarify with Ofcom, as some of the detail is very specific and limiting.

Teen themes

The notes say, for example, that ads are 'least likely to comply' with the regulations if they include personalities who are popular with under-18s, use animation, include animals or music likely to appeal to teenagers, or feature sport.

Humour that could appeal to under-18s would fall foul, with no one to be depicted behaving in an 'adolescent or juvenile way'. Clearly this would also rule out the commonly used advertising theme of men in their 20s and 30s mucking about.

The consultation period for these suggested regulations will end on September 24, after which Ofcom will apply the finalised rules from November.

The industry isn't holding out a great deal of hope that the body will soften any of its proposals. Curbing anti-social behaviour, particularly among binge-drinking teenagers, is now a priority government policy.

ESSENTIALS - HOW CURRENT ADS MIGHT FARE

Bacardi Breezer

A popular tipple for youngsters, Ofcom would look hard at ads for this brand. This execution, featuring a young man thinking back to a wild night out, shows boisterous behaviour of the type that Ofcom wants to discourage - even if teenagers are unlikely to want to ride a horse through their local pub in reality.

Baileys

This ad features people floating around as if in zero gravity, laughing and sharing a bottle of Baileys. With the new rule dictating that alcohol cannot be seen to be improving the atmosphere of a social occasion, it is unlikely that this execution would have been made if the proposed rules were in force.

Carling

Alcohol ads featuring sport are unlikely to be allowed under the new guidelines, so this Carling ad screened during Euro 2004 featuring an impromptu street football game would probably not have been screened. The proposal also raises the question of how beer advertisers could tie their campaigns in with sports events.

The Famous Grouse

Here's a challenge for Ofcom. The proposed rules say that ads featuring animals will not be allowed. This presents a big problem for The Famous Grouse, which uses its brand icon in its TV ads. However, it may be able to successfully argue that Scotch is a not a popular choice for teens out on the town.

Gordon's

This ad shows people going to extraordinary lengths to get refreshed - standing in rivers so they will be splashed by passing cars, or having drinks thrown over them by cafeteria staff. Shot in a particularly filmic way, it seems unlikely that this ad could be construed as appealing to bingeing teenagers.

Grolsch

A group of aliens are asked why they are abducting a random human - the actor tells them 'We've got a whole planet full of scientists, Nobel prize-winners, supermodels'. The final shot shows the aliens ejecting the human from their ship in favour of a crate of Grolsch. It's all adult humour, so this would pass.

Guinness

Much of the 'Darkness into Light' campaign would be acceptable under the new rules, with its reliance on arty, esoteric imagery. Current ads for Guinness Extra Cold, however - one featuring a fish riding a bicycle - could be seen as appealing to children. As Guinness doesn't tend to appeal to teenagers, Ofcom may allow it.

John Smith's

The creatively lauded Peter Kay campaign would be unlikely to survive the new regime. Although bitter is not popular among teens, Kay has a wide appeal and Ofcom may feel that the ad would be enjoyed by the young. Additionally, Kay's trademark is puerile humour, specifically ruled against in the proposals.

Smirnoff

This quirky Smirnoff ad, bearing the strapline 'Not the usual', is very unlikely to have to go back to the drawing board under the Ofcom proposals. The series of images of a Russian spy-cum-doll escaping from the security services with a smuggled micro-cassette is firmly in the category of adult appeal.

WKD

A group of young men playing practical jokes on each other? This would never have been made under the proposed guidance. The humour is just the kind the new regulations would seek to curb. Since this is the focus of WKD's positioning, it is difficult to see where this brand can go creatively.

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