For companies that specialize in the manufacturing and sale of alcohol products, promoting their products on social networks and via smartphone applications is risky business.

The RICARD group paid the price for this after a case was brought against the group by the National Association for Alcohol and Addiction Prevention (ANPAA). The case was successively welcomed by the trial judges, and then confirmed by the French Supreme Court on 3 July.

The significance of this ruling lies in the fact that the judges adopted a restrictive position that went beyond the stipulations of Articles L 3323-2 and L 3323-4 of the Code of Public Health which governs the conditions under which alcoholic products can be promoted in France (especially providing that such advertising campaigns make mention “of a public health message indicating that alcohol abuse is hazardous to health”, and that the messages advertised are neither intrusive nor interstitial).

In this case, the advertising campaign orchestrated by Ricard consisted strictly of the advertising slogan “One Ricard. Many encounters” (“Un Ricard, des Rencontres” in French) which appeared on the company’s brochures and on the Internet. The promotion included the option for the targeted audience to relay information to others if they so wished using their Facebook® account or via the “Ricard Mix Code” mobile application, available for download on specialized platforms, particularly the AppleStore®.

In this case, the judges considered that providing the consumer with this option was a form of advertising of alcoholic beverages and they therefore decided to apply the aforementioned Articles, noting that “the fact that this message could be relayed by an Internet user to his ‘network of friends’ did not mean that it no longer constituted advertising”.

Furthermore, the judges were of the opinion that the slogan “One Ricard, many Encounters” used by Ricard for its brochures and on the Internet “constituted a direct incentive to consume Ricard with the aim of enjoying social interactions. Also the variety of colours, playing on the elements added to Ricard (water, ice, grenadine syrup, mint), and the clouds, gave an impression of lightness, or escape, and not of the “glossy-eye” effect, nor generally of the manner in which the product is consumed. Finally that the “#” sign which means “pound sign” in the mind of the French consumer, associated with a number which said consumer cannot understand, was solely aimed at capturing his attention, particularly that of a young consumer influenced by modern technology”. This reference to an audience of young consumers is what led the judges to apply Article L 3323-2 and to prohibit the contested campaign.

Key points

When advertising messages aim to promote alcoholic beverages, borrowing symbols from “lexical field” of social networks must be done with caution as the courts link these signs to the young population. In this case, it was the pound sign or “hastag” in TWITTER language, which was used as a summary statement with no direct reference to the reprehensible use of alcohol).

The promotion of a mobile application and/or creation of a Facebook® page aimed at promoting alcoholic beverages constitute “an advertising campaign” falling within the scope of the law.