THE HALF-POUR: On May 27, the Paris Court of Appeals ordered the immediate cessation of an advertising campaign commissioned by Inter Rhône. The court reasoned that the now famous ad, which depicts a man in a suit being lifted above a dreary city by a red balloon, clearly “suggests that the consumption of Côtes du Rhône alcohol allows one to escape the difficulties of everyday life,” and that this messaging can lead to abuse of alcohol in order to attain the state of happiness depicted in the image. The fine for display of the ad is €5,000 per day per infraction starting May 27.
The court concluded that the ad violates Article L.3323-4 of the French Code of Public Health, which requires that alcohol advertising be objective and informative. The court’s decision seems to turn on the notion of provocation or incitement, as it found the ad “manifestly inciting” pleasure-seeking or escapist behavior. According to the court, this “incitement” is beyond what is necessary to promote the product. It did not matter to the court that the image is a drawing rather than a photo.
The image and text were challenged by a nonprofit organization, ANPAA (Association Nationale de Prévention en Alcoologie et Addictologie), that educates and advocates against alcoholism and other addictions. ANPAA filed suit in November 2014 to stop the campaign, but in 2015 the trial court upheld Inter Rhone’s right to continue the campaign with only a modification of the slogan. Inter Rhone changed the slogan, but ANPAA was not satisfied and appealed the decision. The May 27 order is the latest development in the dispute.
This is not the first time that ANPAA has attacked a wine advertising campaign. In 2005, for example, the organization challenged a campaign promoting Bordeaux wines with photos of happy, friendly-looking winemakers for “promoting an image of conviviality associated with Bordeaux wines in a way that incited consumption.” Over the course of nearly a decade, that case found its way to the Cour de Cassation, the highest Court in France, where ANPAA lost.
It is interesting that one of the world’s leading wine producing countries has relatively restrictive laws regarding alcohol advertising. The Public Health Law and Article L.18 of the 'loi Evin" limit ad text to the following information:
- Alcohol volume;
- Company name;
- Name and address of the producer, distributor, and retailer; and
- Mode of production, sale, and consumption of the product.
“Objective” references to the color, aroma, and taste are also allowed. Article L17 of the loi Evin strictly limits where alcohol can be advertised. Alcohol cannot be advertised on television, for example. While the laws ensure much less suggestive and pervasive promotion (and certainly, in my opinion, more tasteful ads), they sometimes pose serious problems for the wine industry, as well as for those adjacent to the industry (such as magazines that receive ad revenue from wine producers). An aborted ad campaign is a significant sunk cost, and agencies might feel unduly constrained to self-censorship. Furthermore, visual depictions elude hard and fast rules, adding uncertainty to the mix.
Last year the French government slightly relaxed the loi Evin by drawing a distinction between alcohol “advertising” and “oenological information,” clearing the latter for television broadcast. Promotion of a particular product via television, however, remains prohibited.
The May 27 decision punctured Inter Rhône’s red balloon and could have implications for wine advertising throughout France. It remains to be seen whether the balloon lands in the Cour de Cassation.