Zero alcohol ads are being used to circumvent the intent of laws designed to protect children from harmful alcohol advertising


Thursday, Feb 23 – Immediate Release: Zero alcohol ads are being used to circumvent the intent of laws designed to protect children from harmful alcohol advertising – ‘so-called loophole’ must be closed

Concerns about the marketing of zero alcohol products are mounting as they are being used as a trojan horse to both expose children to alcohol brands and to circumvent the intent of the Public Health Alcohol Act (PHAA), Alcohol Action Ireland contends.

Just as the PHAA’s legal mechanisms to restrict alcohol marketing came into force, big alcohol brands began brand sharing – that is advertising zero alcohol beers using the same parent branding, logos and colours. Zero alcohol drinks make up just 1.5% of the Irish drinks market but ads for them are now visible everywhere that alcohol ads aren’t allowed.

Not surprisingly, research indicates that this shared design successfully increases young people’s brand familiarity and affects their brand recognition and brand awareness.

CEO of Alcohol Action Ireland (AAI) Dr Sheila Gilheany said: “Zero alcohol ads are not being pushed because the alcohol industry wants us to drink less but because of new laws banning where they can advertise their products.  Brand sharing means that children who see people drinking what appears to them to be alcohol – because of the same branding – will at a young age be conditioned to think differently about when and where it is appropriate to drink alcohol.”

The PHAA does not ban alcohol sports sponsorship but in November 2021 a modest measure was implemented outlawing alcohol advertisements on the field of play, while still allowing them on hoardings around the pitch. 

“This was very much a watered-down restriction, yet Guinness responded by displaying their logo and name with an additional, barely visible 0.0, onto the pitch, during Six Nations matches. This is hardly in keeping with the intent of the law,” Dr Gilheany said. “When the ban on public transport came into force Heineken simply put a zero zero onto their ads on buses around Dublin. It’s clear to us now that alcohol brands will do everything they can to get around even the most modest of restrictions.”

AAI contends that the definition of advertising used in the Act should be sufficiently broad to prevent this. The legislation’s definition of “advertisement” (s. 2 of the PHAA) states that for the purposes of that Act, advertising means – any form of commercial communication intended to promote an alcohol product, whether directly or indirectly, including trademarks, emblems, marketing images and logos making reference to the product.

“If this is not clear enough, then an amendment must be brought forth to ensure this so-called loophole is closed. In Norway, which has a ban on alcohol advertising, the codes governing its legislation are crystal clear. Marketing of zero alcohol products of the same brand as alcoholic products is banned. Non-alcoholic beverages must have their own distinct branding, quite different from the parent brand,” Dr Gilheany said.

Another serious lacuna in regard to these products is that there is no law preventing them being sold to under 18-year-olds. 

“It is understood that retailers, bars and pubs are generally treating such products as alcohol products and not selling to under 18s, which begs the question – why? Could it be that it’s recognised that it’s not appropriate to sell a product that mimics alcohol and that would allow young people to start to taste the flavour of alcohol and ‘mock drink’ from any age? If this is the thinking regarding the sale of these products, then this should be the thinking in relation to marketing them. Indeed, the self-regulatory body, the Advertising Standards Authority for Ireland have issued guidelines telling advertisers not to market these products to children.

It is time to bring statutory control to the sale and marketing of these products. Our question to the government is  – when are they going to stand up to this industry and defend their own policy.” Dr Gilheany added.



  1. Read our comprehensive blog on the marketing of zero-alcohol products here.
  2. Media language guide here.

Contact Dr Sheila Gilheany for interview on 086 260 0903