The Swedish Market Court has laid down a very strict marker for booze advertisers thinking of depicting anything other than the product in ads. Magnus Friberg of Malmo law firm Setterwalls reveals the wonders of Sweden’s Alcohol Act


Who: The Swedish Consumer Ombudsman v. Vin & Sprit AB
Where: The Swedish Market Court
When: 12 October 2006 
What happened:

Vin & Sprit was prohibited to use print ads for wine directed to consumers containing other features than the product, the main ingredient, single packaging, trade mark or other form of brand.

Why this matters:

Sets the standard for pictures in advertisements for alcoholic beverages

Sweden: Hands are off in ads for alcoholic beverages

The Swedish Market Court has recently set the standard for interpretation of the Swedish rules concerning advertisements for alcoholic beverages. The case concerned three print ads for Vin & Sprit a major Swedish importer and distributor of alcoholic beverages, perhaps most known for the brand ABSOLUT, where the company marketed two of its wine labels. The first ad displays a stack of pizza cartons on a kitchen table. The second showed a dishwasher packed with wine glasses and the third seemed inspired by Michelangelo's painting the Creation of Adam, displaying a hand pouring wine from a bottle labelled with the brand into a glass held by another hand. The Market Court found the ads to be in violation of the applicable Swedish legislation.

Rules concerning the marketing of alcoholic beverages are found in the Alcohol Act. First of all print ads directed to consumers can only advertise alcoholic drinks which level of alcohol does not exceed 15%. Virtually all other marketing measures directed to consumers, with the exception of activities in sales venues i.e. restaurants and retailers, are prohibited. Second of all there are specific restrictions as to the content of the ads. Pictures may only show the product, ingredients (grapes, hops etc), single bottles, cans or other packaging, trademark or other brand. All other features are prohibited. Obviously the three ads went beyond what is permitted. The Market Court says that the law leaves little if any room for extending the interpretation beyond what is stated in the Act. In addition the ads should be restricted to state relevant and correct information concerning the product.

Thus pictures describing a natural situation for consumption such as people drinking wine at dinner or similar are prohibited according to the law. Advertising should not give the impression that the marketed product should be consumed under pleasant circumstances, nor can the product be said to have an extraordinary [good] taste. A well-known case from some years ago showed a beer can with water drops on it as if it had just been taken out of a cooler. The display of these water drops were in violation of the law. The question is whether the rules have much practical value. Consumers are subjected to television commercials through trans-border broadcasting services such as TV3 and Kanal 5 broadcasting in Swedish to Swedish viewers under English law. The English marketing regulations are much more liberal than the Swedish, but that is as they say another story.

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