When it comes to communicating on alcoholic products, using social networks is becoming an increasingly sensitive practice.

A few months ago, the French supreme court of appeal (Cour de Cassation) rendered a decision against an advertising campaign that was made via facebook, using the slogan "un Ricard des rencontres" (suggesting the combined ideas of having a Ricard and meeting with friends) on the ground - in particular - that, although this message was passed on by a web user to this user's "network of friends", this type of communication did not deprive the message of its advertising nature.

Consequently, articles L. 3323-2 et seq. of the French Public Health Code could only apply in full, and in this context the ambiguous and subjective character of the vocabulary that was used (i.e. the term "rencontres" (suggesting meetings and interactions), as well as the intrusive nature of the ads, were in breach of the "Evin" law, which bans the advertisement of alcohol and tobacco across France.

More recently, on 20 November 2013, the ANPAA (the French national association for prevention in alcohology and addictology) filed a writ of summons against HEINEKEN ENTREPRISE and FACEBOOK for breach of the provisions of the said law.

The Evin law (since 2009) stipulates in particular that:

 "Direct or indirect propaganda or advertising in favor of alcoholic beverages whose manufacture and sales are not prohibited are authorized exclusively:

 9° Via online communications services, except in cases where the services concerned may be considered, owing to their nature, presentation or purpose, as intended essentially for the youth, and with the exception, also, of services offered on line by associations, companies and sports federations or professional leagues in the sense of the Sports Code, subject to said propaganda or advertising not being intrusive or interstitial."

Considering the above provisions, the writ refers to:

  • The Allegedly unauthorized contents on the Heineken and Desperados pages, such as "Attention, la nouvelle Desperados Verde peut surprendre..." or "L’innovation Heineken arrive à Paris Préparez-vous au lancement final."
  • The Allegedly intrusive nature of the messages issued on the fans news feed: by clicking on the "I like" tab on the official DESPERADOS Facebook page, the user would become receiver of intrusive and unauthorized advertising messages "whose contents cannot be controlled and whose dissemination is systematic, unannounced and uncommanded".
  • The fact that the contents on Facebook would be "intended essentially for the youth". The ANPAA argues in this respect that social networks "are used by 70% of children aged from 12 to 17, 48% of which use Facebook".
  • The absence of age screening to authorize access to the pages concerned.

The ANPAA therefore requests that the Heineken and Desperados pages be removed, that these brands be barred from issuing any new advertisements via Facebook, and that Facebook be barred from hosting the pages of the alcohol producers, as well as any contents relating to alcoholic beverages.

The hearing is scheduled for 18 December this year. In the meantime, operators should be advised to take the following precautions:

  1. Do not refer to, or try to reach for minors and, as applicable, do not forget to limit access to your information to web users of major age (provide for proper screening)
  2. Clearly identify the page in question in the "Wine/alcohol" category
  3. Always insert the mandatory statements (including the sanitary statement)
  4. Comply with the "spirit" of the Evin law and avoid as much as possible using embellished/colorful terms referring to sensuality, humor or pleasure.
  5. As a rule, avoid pure product communication and rather focus on information concerning the company