France: Advertising Of Alcoholic Beverages In Connection With A Sporting Event: A Total Ban In France

On January 22, 2019, the Tribunal de Grande Instance of Paris sentenced jointly a supermarket brand and a publishing company, on the ground of illicit ad for alcoholic beverages, for the publication and the distribution of a promotional leaflet presenting Heineken's promotional offers, running for 15 days in June 2016 (during the Euro 2016 soccer Cup), with a visual illustrating the soccer game's environment (the ad was also available on the supermarket's website).

  1. The advertising for alcoholic beverages is strictly regulated in France (overview)

A drink is considered an alcoholic beverage if it has an alcoholic strength by volume of more than 1.2 per cent.

The direct or indirect propaganda or advertising in favour of alcoholic drinks is only allowed in limited cases as provided by the French Public Health Code, which specifies:

  • a limited list of permissible media (e.g., in press for adults, certain categories of radio stations at specific times or on notice boards or signs), which does not include French TV; and 
  • a limited list of information (e.g., the degree of alcohol, the origin and components of the product, the name and the address of the manufacturer, the modalities of the sale and consumption of the product). 
  1. What was wrong with the litigious ad?

The French Association fighting alcoholism (ANPAA) filed a lawsuit before the Tribunal de Grande Instance of Paris, against the supermarket brand and the publisher of the leaflet, on the ground of illicit ad for alcoholic beverages.

What was wrong with this ad ?

In the foreground of the visual, there was a pack of beers with a star on two bottles: one with the colors of the French flag, the other with those of the Spanish flag. In the high background of the visual, a sketch of a football cage was visible. And a football field was identifiable in the low background. 

The ad also presented a 40 % discount upon the purchase of a pack of beers and an offer to enter a prize draw to win travels.

The judges considered that the combination of these elements made a clear reference to the Euro 2016 Soccer Cup taking place concurrently with the broadcast of the litigious ad (France and Spain being also two major teams of the competition). 

The Tribunal also held that such a visual, associating the consumption of alcohol with a popular sport competition created a festive link between sport and alcohol, and thus promoted the consumption of alcohol. 

Moreover, the judges challenged the fact that the message was not limited to the information authorized by the French Health Code (e.g., a game of chance on alcohol is not permitted) and encouraged the consumption of alcohol (i.e., a game of chance associated with a 40% discount).

*   *   *

The ad has been deemed an illicit ad for alcoholic beverages. The defendants have been jointly ordered to pay to the ANPAA 3,000 Euros (monetary damages) and 3,500 Euros (procedural costs). The judges did not order the discontinuation of the ad as the ad campaign was over at the time of the decision.

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