The Portman Group’s new Code will extend from just naming and packaging of alcoholic drinks to promotion online and offline. But will this overlap uncomfortably with the CAP/ASA scheme?
Who: The Portman Group
When: September 2002
Drinks industry funded drinks industry watchdog, the Portman Group published a revised version of its Code of Practice on the naming, packaging and promotion of alcoholic drinks.
The revised code is the end result of the biggest overhaul process since the Code was first launched in 1996. The new version will be effective as from 1 March 2003.
Instead of being just a code on naming and packaging it now also covers promotion of alcoholic drinks. This means that for the first time the Code's application is extended into areas such as sampling, sponsorship and on-line marketing.
As regards sponsorship, for example, no drink brand will be allowed to sponsor an event if more than one quarter of the audience or participants are under 25, while alcohol brands that sponsor sports clubs must not insist on the club producing a children's size replica kit bearing the brand name or logo.
Separately, the extension of the Code to cover on-line marketing may well operate as a damper on a number of current drinks websites which might in the view of some be regarded as contravening the Portman Code's existing prohibition of marketing material which suggests any association with sexual success or encourages immoderate consumption. At the present time these sites are relatively immune from regulatory activity. This is because the only existing code that applies to online advertising, that of the Committee of Advertising Practice enforced by the Advertising Standards Authority, only applies to banner advertising on websites, not, unless it relates to a specific sales promotion, material advertising, say, Carlsberg lager on the Carlsberg site.
This is not to say that the Code applies to all alcoholic drink websites, worldwide. The definition of "website" in the Code is restricted to "sites managed by or on behalf of an alcoholic drinks producer or UK distributor for the promotion of their brands primarily to the UK market".
Another new provision of the Code encourages producers and retailers to include a clause in their supply contracts to provide for the amendment of a product's packaging within a 3 month period following the upholding by the Independent Complaints Panel of a complaint under the Code. The Panel's complaint handling procedure also now benefits from a new "fast track" procedure. This applies where the Panel has found that packaging of an alcoholic product contravenes the Code, but the redesigned packaging does not in the opinion of the Code Secretariat adequately take into account the Panel's findings. In such case the brand owner in question will be notified and invited to make further representations within 14 days, with a decision to be taken by the Panel within 3 weeks.
Why this matters:
Since its inception in 1996 the Portman Group's Code has been fighting a long battle to achieve real credibility. In 6 years there have been just 124 complaints that the Code has been breached, 55% of which have been upheld.
The Group no doubt hopes that this revised, more user-friendly and more extensive code takes it to a higher level in terms of general broad acceptance. Perhaps the most significant change is the extension of the Code from simply naming and packaging to the promotion of alcoholic drinks. This means , however, that the Code now overlaps to a significant extent with the provisions of the Committee of Advertising Practice's British Code of Advertising and Sales Promotion. This is at the heart of a self regulatory system that after 40 years has achieved a level of credibility that the Portman Group can only dream of. How this overlapping will work in practice and whether it will lead to the Portman Group's Independent Complaints Panel taking over from the Advertising Standards Authority in the handling of a material numbers of complaints about alcoholic drinks promotion and advertising remains to be seen.