In light of recent decisions made by the Independent Complaints Panel about alcoholic drinks which contain recognised stimulant ingredients, the Advisory Service has pulled together its top tips to help producers ensure their marketing is on the right side of the Code.

Although not a new product category, alcoholic drinks which contain a recognised stimulant ingredient, like caffeine, are a topic that we often get asked about in the Advisory Service. While it is important to note that the Portman Group does not regulate the liquid contents of an alcoholic drink, we can offer advice on the naming, packaging, and promotion of them. With that in mind, read on for our top tips to help ensure they comply with the Code:

  1. Alcohol packaging and marketing should not suggest that it could help a consumer feel energised

It has long been the Advisory Service’s view that care should be taken when there is an ingredient in a drink that is a stimulant. Any suggestion that it could help a consumer feel energised should be avoided.

While caffeinated non-alcoholic beverages are often called ‘energy drinks’, it would be irresponsible to include the word ‘energy’ in the name, or as part of a description, of an alcoholic drink, because it inherently suggests that the drink has an ‘energising’ effect and thus implies the drink has a therapeutic quality.

Similarly, any indirect claim that related to the effect of a stimulant ingredient is also unlikely to be acceptable. For example, language which implied a stimulant effect such as ‘awake’, ‘buzzing’ or ‘electrifying’ are all likely to be unacceptable, because they suggest the drink acts as a stimulant.

  1. Reference to ingredients should be factual and non-emotive

It may be necessary to inform consumers of the ingredients in a drink, especially if it has a high caffeine content. However, this information should be provided in a factual, neutral and non-emotive way. For instance, some products include phrases such as ‘high caffeine content’ or ‘contains caffeine’ but packaging and promotional material should not place undue emphasis on the caffeine content or the effect that drinking caffeine could have on consumers. If the caffeine content was given undue prominence, such as being placed in red bold large text on the front of otherwise sombre packaging or contained emotive language such as ‘Warning: prepare yourself for high caffeine content!’ then these are unlikely to be acceptable because both examples market the product based on the implied effect of caffeine as a stimulant ingredient.

  1. Any suggestion that alcohol can enhance physical or mental capabilities, or can change mood or behaviour is unlikely to be acceptable

Alongside the above, you should also take care that there is no suggestion that the drink could enhance physical or mental abilities. For example, phrases like ‘party for longer’ or ‘helps you go all night’ are unlikely to be acceptable as both imply that a consumer will benefit from an improved physical affect. Similarly, ‘unlock your mind’s eye’ is unlikely to be acceptable because it suggests that the drink could help enhance mental capabilities.

You should bear in mind that it is not just positive ‘changes’ that are unlikely to be acceptable. Any suggestion that a person’s mood or behaviour could be affected is likely to be problematic i.e., ‘lose your mind’ and ‘banish the Monday blues’ both suggest that a person’s mood/behaviour will be changed.

We know this can be a tricky area so we’d recommend reading our guidance or seeking a free, confidential, non-binding view from the Advisory Service.