On 3 April 2014, the Court of Appeal of Versailles rendered an interesting decision on the interpretation of article L3323-4 of the French public health code which regulates the contents of advertisements for alcoholic beverages. Advertisements can refer to the place of production, awards and distinctions obtained by the product, geographical indications as well as "objective references" relating to its colour and gustatory characteristics. However, advertising messages that stray too far from the objective characteristics of an alcoholic beverage and present an image of alcohol consumption as too glamorous can be held by French courts to violate the provisions of the public health code.
In 2005, the CIVB (Inter-professional Committee of Bordeaux Wines) launched an advertising showing attractive Bordeaux wine professionals, looking happy and relaxed and holding a glass of wine, with the indication of their names and jobs (i.e., “winegrower”, “wine merchant”, “cellar master”), as well as lists of Bordeaux wine appellations of origin.
A French association devoted to fighting alcoholism and addiction (“ANPAA”) filed an action before the Paris High Court seeking an order to stop the advertising campaign. The association believed the CIVB's advertisements violated the provisions of article L.3323-4 of the public health code, notably on the grounds that the visuals conveyed an image of conviviality such that they encouraged the consumption of alcohol.
This case went up to the French Supreme Court which ruled in favour of the ANPAA. It was then referred back to the Court of Appeal of Versailles which refused to align itself with the French Supreme Court and found in favour of CIVB.
The Court of Appeal of Versailles considered that the individuals presented on the campaign visuals were not likely to be perceived as consumers but as professionals who took part in the production or sale of Bordeaux wines. The campaign showed them holding a glass of wine, not drinking it, without any representation of a bottle, on a neutral background, so in the Court of Appeal's view, no reference to conviviality or to circumstances favourable to the consumption of alcohol could be inferred. The Court further ruled that the indisputable impression of satisfaction conveyed by the visuals was inherent to the nature of advertising and did not exceed the limits set out by the law. This law only regulates the advertisement of alcoholic beverages but did not prohibit it or prevent wine professionals from presenting their products in an appealing manner. Thus, the court considered that an advertising campaign which showed alcoholic beverages in a favourable light was not necessarily inconsistent with the law, as long as it did not encourage excessive consumption.