THERE WAS a time when advertising campaigns for alcoholic drinks were based on the thirst-slaking qualities or even the nutritional value of the beverages they championed.
Guinness was "good for you", Heineken "refreshed" the parts that other beers couldn't reach and Le Piat D'or gave the consumer French sophistication. The veracity of such claims may have been open to question, but the boasts now seem charmingly coy.
That was then. Now, like a group of loudmouth lads at the bar, 55 minutes into happy hour, alcopop television adverts have burst onto the market, with an outpouring of sexual braggadocio. But the Government believes the drinks industry has gone too far. The ads, it says, encourage antisocial behaviour and unsafe sex.
In a clampdown, ministers are considering new laws to ban alcohol commercials on television before the 9pm watershed and to end self- regulation of the advertising industry.
Take, for example, one new advertisement which features a young woman having an orgasm in a coffee shop at the thought of her Bacardi Breezer- swigging boyfriend. Another ad from the same campaign is set in a church but themed: "She Bangs!"
Leading figures in the advertising industry are also concerned. The former head of a well-known agency said that drinks adverts were "stepping over the boundaries of taste and decency".
Hugh Burkitt, a former member of the Advertising Standards Authority and until last year the chairman of the advertising agency BDB, accused advertisers of breaking self-regulatory codes - and said the industry watchdogs were being too lenient.
He warned that abuse of the rules by advertisers and manufacturers could lead to much tighter regulation of the industry. Adverts for drinks from alcopops to the more traditional gin and bitter are all overstepping the marks of taste and decency, according to campaigners. Television, billboard, newspaper and now internet adverts are all under the influence of the brash new culture.
One of the most memorable adverts recently is Greene King's raunchy reinvention of Abbot Ale - largely credited with serving up a healthy 20 per cent growth in sales for the pub chain operator.
The Government is set to publish an interim report on alcohol in the next two months, ahead of its long-awaited Alcohol Strategy, designed to reduce drink-related health problems and anti-social behaviour.
During the consultation process, campaigners have pointed to Europe and called for much tighter regulation of advertising. Britain currently has some of the most lenient regulations in Europe governing advertising of alcohol.
There is a ban on television advertising of alcohol in France, while Germany prohibits television commercials for spirits. Ireland - the only country with higher rates of teenage drinking than Britain - has now proposed a ban on alcohol advertising before 10pm, a move which would effectively end the drinks industry's close marketing relationship with sport.
In this country, television commercials are regulated by the Independent Television Commission (ITC). Alcohol is not allowed to be advertised during programmes aimed at children, and is not allowed to suggest that drinking will increase sexual prowess.
But Mr Burkitt - whose agency created the memorable "The French adore le Piat D'Or" wine adverts in the eighties, said the rules are being broken - and watchdogs are turning a blind eye.
Now chief executive of the Marketing Society, Mr Burkitt told The Independent: "If you go back five years there were very few complaints about alcohol. We are seeing more and more now. The ads are stepping over the boundaries of taste and decency."
Mr Burkitt said an advert for Carling, which depicted a woman trailing lager over furniture as a man licked it off, was "extremely tasteless".
He also …