Zero-alcohol beer advert up against ABAC

Adverts for CUB’s Carlton Zero, Corona and XXXX are the latest to have been considered by the ABAC panel.

All three were dismissed, including a complaint relating to the non-alcoholic Carlton Zero beer that highlighted the issues inherent in no-alcohol brand extensions when it comes to ABAC compliance.

Carlton Zero

Carlton & United Breweries’ non-alcoholic beer offering, Carlton Zero, depicts a number of activities which drinkers of the non-alcoholic beer can undertake, which would be denied to someone drinking alcohol. It carried the tagline ‘Rewrite the Rules’.

The unnamed complainant declared that Carlton Zero fell under the jurisdiction of the code, correctly identifying it as a brand extension of Carlton United.

As such, they said, showing an individual “drinking then participating in high risk activities is careless and a breach of the Code”.

The code stipulates that alcohol brand extensions to non-alcohol beverage products under the 0.5% abv mark remain under the jurisdiction of ABAC.

It also says that marketing communications are not permitted to show the consumption of an alcoholic beverage before or during any activity that requires a high degree of alertness, such as those shown in the Carlton Zero advert such as swimming, operating heavy machinery and driving.

Pre-vetting approval was granted for the advert in November 2020.

CUB responded by saying that theYouTube advert was a “light-hearted presentation” of scenarios in which it would be inappropriate to drink alcohol, but is acceptable to drink a non-alcoholic beverage.

CUB said that at no point in the advert is the main protagonist shown drinking alcohol and it “could not disagree more” at the complainant’s assertion that Carlton Zero is advertised “as a way to drink beer” while undertaking potentially high-risk activities.

It explained that the beverage is clearly recognised as non-alcoholic throughout and that it is similar to a previous advert which was the subject of a complaint back in 2019, saying its aim was to highlight the times and examples of when it is not permitted to drink alcohol, and offered Carlton Zero as an alternative.

The company noted the previous ABAC panel’s conclusions that: “a common-sense approach needs to be adopted when applying the standards and it would be a mildly perverse outcome to conclude that an ad which seeks to promote a non-alcoholic beverage as an alternative to an alcoholic beverage was struck down for promoting the irresponsible use of alcohol”.

CUB said that the panel should reach a similar conclusion as the only “practical difference” between the advertisements is the different scenarios pictured.

In its response, ABAC highlighted the growth of the non-alcoholic beer market, which by no means novel, has seen sales grow extensively in recent years.

The panel itself first dealt with public complaints about the marketing of non-alcoholic beers in 2018 and since then, several determinations have been made concerning both Carlton Zero and Heineken 0.0.

“On each occasion, the complaints have expressed a ‘Trojan Horse’ type of concern,” it said.

The ABAC panel admitted that the application of the code’s standards to the marketing of brand extensions is ‘clunky’ as the standards were designed for alcoholic beverages and “sit awkwardly’ when applied to non-alcoholic beverages.

As a result, it said, it applies a ‘common sense’ approach, and the core question in relation to the Carlton Zero advert was whether a reasonable person would understand the video as promoting or encouraging the consumption of alcohol before or during potentially dangerous activities.

It concluded that this advert would not be understood as doing so because the product is clearly identified as no-alcohol, so there was no prospect it would be confused with an alcoholic version, that the premise of the ad is to contrast the circumstances when it is not responsible to drink alcohol and when it would be acceptable to drink a no-alcohol beer.

A reasonable person would not interpret the ad as encouraging alcohol use with dangerous activities, it concluded, and dismissed the complaint.


A complaint was also made about the Asahi Beverage Mexican beer brand Corona, for an outdoor billboard advertisement in Western Australia.

It featured a group of young people on the beach, holding a guitar and Corona Beer.

The complainant argued that drinking alcohol on a beach, as depicted in the advert, is illegal in Western Australia, and therefore the ad should be pulled.

Part of the code stipulates that marketing communications must not show or encourage irresponsible or offensive behaviour related to the consumption or presence of alcohol.

Asahi Beverages said that it was “surprised” that this marketing was still visible, as much Corona marketing activity was suspended in March 2020 due to the coronavirus pandemic and has not yet resumed. In fact, there were warnings before Christmas that there may be shortages of Corona over the holiday period.

It said that according to the WA state government, consuming liquor is an offence without the consent of the owner or controlling authority. In addition, all individuals in the advertisement are clothed, and this indicates they will not be going swimming, according to the company.

The ABAC panel agreed. It said that the intent of the standard is to prohibit alcohol marketing which influences offensive behaviour.

The ad depicts a scene showing adults quietly drinking a moderate amount of alcohol, and that a reasonable person would not interpret the ad as suggesting illegal behaviour, it said. The panel dismissed the complaint.


The latest ABAC judgement on Lion-owned XXXX concerned two complaints about its advertising at the Sydney Cricket Ground during the One Day International test between Australia and India.

It involved a static advert on the scoreboard using full and empty pints of XXXX beer to denote umpire decisions of ‘out’ and ‘not out’.

The complainants objected to the advert, saying that there are hundreds of children watching cricket and it is “disturbing” to see the normalisation of beer drinking.

“Showing a full glass of beer and making the audience wait for the results each time and then reflecting it inside an empty beer glass is encouraging children and adults to skull a glass of beer instead of drinking it slowly and in moderation,” one of the unnamed complainants wrote.

The panel asserted that ABAC does not cover or judge on sponsorship deals, but that it does cover placement rules, and that marketing communications must not show or encourage the excessive consumption of alcohol, or have evident appeal to minors.

Lion responded to the complaints by reiterating its commitment to the ABAC Scheme. It said there was no reliable, up-to-date audience age data for the ODI, but that Cricket Australia had advised that of the people that attended the event at the stadium, only 8 per cent were children.

An ABAC panel declared that it did not believe that the brand activation breaches its standards as it is not likely that minors would be “engaged” by the advertisements or their graphics.

It said that it did not believe that the adverts would be thought by a reasonable person to be portraying consumption of the product.

While it might be a legitimate viewpoint that normalising alcohol use is inappropriate, there is no provision within ABAC to ban companies from normalising alcohol use, it declared. In fact, it said, the code assumes that normal use is adults consuming alcohol at levels consistent with government guidelines.

Cricket is a national sport, it said, and cannot be considered be primarily aimed at children, it finished and dismissed both the complaints.

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