Who: The Portman Group
Where: United Kingdom
When: 31 January 2014
Law stated as at: 11 March 2014
The Portman Group is a not-for-profit organisation funded by nine member companies who represent every sector of drinks production in the UK and collectively account for more than half the UK alcohol market. It describes its role as being to lead on best practice in alcohol social responsibility through the actions of its member companies, to regulate the promotion and packaging of alcoholic drinks sold or marketed in the UK (which it does through its own Code of Practice), and to challenge and encourage the alcohol industry to market its products responsibly.
Under the Government’s Public Health Responsibility Deal, the Portman Group has developed a Code of Practice on Sponsorship.
This binds the alcohol industry, on a self-regulatory basis, to a raft of measures to promote responsible consumption of alcohol at any alcohol-sponsored events. The new Alcohol Sponsorship Code (the “Code”) requires drinks producers and leading sports, music and venue organisations to promote responsible drinking through their sponsorships and the Code has been described as formalising much of the activity which was already central to the alcohol industries’ sponsorship agreements. It has also established a new ‘positive commitment’ for alcohol producers to promote responsible drinking as a part of the sponsorship deals they sign.
The Code came into force on 31 January 2014 and it applies to all alcohol sponsorship agreements activated within the UK through sponsorship agreements agreed (or reviewed or renewed) after 31 January 2014. It does not apply to international sponsorships which are outside the control of a UK subsidiary company. The intention is to require not only the alcoholic drinks industry (and their retailers and ad agencies) to comply with the Code where it applies to their activities.
Some of the key rules
A few of the key points introduced by the Code and its set of new rules for ‘responsible alcohol sponsorship’ include the following:
1. In any new alcohol sponsorship agreement, drinks companies must ensure there is a recognisable commitment to promoting responsible drinking and/or supporting diversionary or community activities;
2. Drinks companies must not sponsor or otherwise support individuals under the age of 18. They may sponsors a team, band or group that includes members who are under the age of 18 provided that at least 75% of the overall participants are over the age of 18 (and any under 18 members must not be used individually in any promotional activities);
3. Drinks companies must not sponsors individuals, activities, team or events which have a particular appeal to, or are primarily aimed at, under 18s;
4. Drinks companies must not allow the placement of their brand names or trade marks on merchandise which has particular appeal to or is intended for use primarily by under 18s;
5. Prior to sponsoring an event, team or activity, drinks companies just use their reasonable endeavours to obtain data on the expected participants, audience or spectator profile to ensure that at least the aggregate of 75% of the audience are over 18;
6. Drinks companies must not sponsors individuals, groups or events which encourage illegal, irresponsible or immoderate consumption of alcohol or who are associated with sexual activity or sexual success; and
7. Sponsorship must not imply it is acceptable to consume alcohol before or whole playing sport or suggest alcohol enhances sporting performance or social success.
35 working day fast track process for complaints
The Code also clearly sets out the investigation procedures that the Portman Group follows in response to the receipt of a third party complaint and details the Fast Track process it seeks to follow where possible.
The aim is to agree an outcome for all Fast Track cases within 35 working days and publish the outcome on the Portman Group’s website.
Independent Complaints Panel handles other cases
Where the Fast Track process cannot be applied, cases will be referred for investigation by the Independent Complaints Panel and any company whose sponsorship is found to be in breach of the new Code by the Panel will be asked to take appropriate remedial action.
If appropriate action is not seen to be taken then the Code Secretariat may notify breaches of the code to “other interested parties” but no further details are provided as to what is meant by this reference in the Code. Again, in the case of all Panel decisions, decisions are placed on the Portman Group’s website, in press releases and in an annual report available to Government, the media, licensing authorities and others. As with the Advertising Standards Authority, the Portman Group therefore hopes that the threat of negative publicity will keep companies the Code applies to on the straight and narrow.
Persistent code breaches and those who ignore the recommendations of the Independent Complaints Panel could face expulsion from Portman Group membership, again with all the negative publicity and adverse implications that may give rise to.
Why this matters:
It should come as no surprise that the new Code aims to ensure that alcohol is promoted in a socially responsible manner and only to those over 18. The Code complements and is consistent with the Portman Group’s Code of Practice on the Naming, Packaging and Promotion of Alcoholic Drinks and both those codes should now be read and applied in conjunction with each other where the marketing of alcohol at a sponsored event is concerned.
The Code has also sought to ensure compliance and consistency with applicable provisions of the CAP and BCAP Codes where the marketing of alcohol is concerned so advertising and experiential agencies instructed on behalf of alcohol clients need to ensure that they adhere to this new Code alongside the other restrictions applicable to alcohol companies when devising sponsorship strategies and marketing materials for use at sponsored events.