Alcohol Beverages Advertising Code

A rigorous Alcohol Beverages Advertising Code (ABAC) in Australia ensures that advertisers cannot seek to induce uptake, target demographics or represent alcohol in an irresponsible way. ABAC covers the content and placement of all marketing, in both traditional and digital media, and any marketing activity associated with sponsorships outside of the use of brand names and logos. It is closely regulated…

In Australia, alcohol advertising, marketing and social media is heavily regulated through the Alcohol Beverages Advertising Code – a robust independent system that includes government representation. ABAC complements and adds to the Australian Association of National Advertisers’ system by providing specific and significant restrictions on the content and placement of alcohol advertising, including:

  • only portraying responsible and moderate use of alcohol beverages;
  • responsibility towards minors (under the age of 18) including that advertisements must not have strong or evident appeal to minors, use actors that may appear to be underage (actors are required to be 25 years or older) or be directed to minors by a breach of the placement rules;
  • responsible depiction of the effects of alcohol by not portraying alcohol as a means to sexual or social success, or change in mood; and
  • not depicting the use of alcohol where it may reduce safety.

As of 1 November 2017, the ABAC Scheme has been further strengthened to respond to community expectations around placement of advertisements, in addition to the existing restrictions on content as outlined above. The new ABAC provisions include:

  • Mandatory age gating – where age restriction controls are available, these must be used to exclude minors;
  • If age restriction controls are not available, adults are expected to comprise at least 75% of the audience;
  • Advertisements cannot be placed within programs or content primarily aimed at minors, even if the placement technically complies with the relevant industry code;
  • No electronic mail advertising can be sent to minors; and
  • Better alignment between existing media codes, for example if the Commercial Television Industry Code of Practice, or the Outdoor Media Association Alcohol Guidelines, are breached, this will also now be a breach of ABAC.

In 2017, Colmar Brunton Social Research explored whether decisions made by ABAC’s Complaints Panel regarding alcohol advertisements and packaging are in line with community expectations. Quantitatively, an online survey of 1,225 Australians across locations, ages and genders measured community perceptions on 12 advertisements reviewed by Complaints Panel, seven of which were deemed by the Panel to breach the Code and were canned as a consequence. Yet just one was deemed inappropriate by the community.

  • ABAC Responsible Alcohol Marketing Code Scheme, Review of Decisions, Colmar Brunton Social Research, March 2017.

Following a viewing of each advertisement, respondents were firstly asked whether they thought the content of the ad was acceptable or not acceptable to display/show and the reasons for this. This opinion was based on reactions to the ad before being aware of The Code. Respondents then read relevant sections of The Code and were asked whether they felt each advertisement should be permitted to be displayed/shown within the context of The Code.

Prior to being exposed to The Code, craft brewers Stockade Brew Co. (54%) was the only ad considered unacceptable by the majority of respondents (i.e. more people found the ads unacceptable than acceptable).

  • ABAC Responsible Alcohol Marketing Code Scheme, Review of Decisions, Colmar Brunton Social Research, March 2017.

As for mainstream beer, the ABAC Panel forced a recall of the VB Blues promotional can as part of the 2016 NRL State of Origin series. However, the blue can packaging on an unprompted basis was deemed acceptable by 67% of viewers, with just 22% deeming it unacceptable.

  • ABAC Responsible Alcohol Marketing Code Scheme, Review of Decisions, Colmar Brunton Social Research, March 2017.

Even after The Code was reviewed by viewers, 62% remained committed to the blue can promotion being acceptable.

  • ABAC Responsible Alcohol Marketing Code Scheme, Review of Decisions, Colmar Brunton Social Research, March 2017.

These results indicate that ABAC’s rulings are conservative compared to community expectations. And, that with a 100% compliance record for its alcohol advertising rulings, the ABAC system has teeth.

  • Brewers Association summation of the data.

Alcohol advertising meets community expectations. The Advertising Standards Bureau reports that alcohol advertising makes up just 2% of all advertising complaints, with just 1.1% of those actually requiring determination.

  • Advertising Standards Bureau 2019.