It’s been a busy few weeks for UK booze advertisers and marketers, what with the Portman Group issuing its revised Code clamping down on “Down in one” drinking and banning alcohol brands on kids’ replica strips and talk of “Drink Sensibly”-type labels on all packaging. Nick Johnson says “Cheers” or not as the case may be.
Who: Portman Group
When: June 2007
Law stated as at: 29 June 2007
The UK's Portman Group this month released the 4th Edition of The Code of Practice on the Naming, Packaging and Promotion of Alcoholic Drinks.
The new version of the Code includes:
– a ban on alcohol brands appearing on children's replica sports kit (rule 3.2(h));
– new rule preventing producers from urging people to drink rapidly or down drinks in one (rule 3.2(g)); and
– a voluntary best practice section giving advice on matters such as labelling and website age verification pages (Annex 1).
The new Code applies from 1 January 2008. (There is a transitional provision allowing an exception for sports replica kit in children's sizes produced as part of a sponsorship agreement entered into before 1 January 2008. This may continue to feature alcohol brands, but only if unbranded alternatives are also made available.)
Why this matters:
The Portman Group's Code has no legal force. It is a self-regulatory code that only applies directly to the Portman Group's member companies (currently Bacardi-Martini, Beverage Brands, Brown-Forman; Carlsberg UK; Coors Brewers; Diageo; Inbev UK; Pernod Ricard UK; and Scottish & Newcastle) and any other Code signatories.
It also has a limited remit in that it only applies to naming, packaging and promotional activities. It does not apply to alcohol advertising which is regulated by the Advertising Standards Authority. Nor does it apply to point-of-sale activities and materials generated by bars and clubs.
However it is possible that compliance or otherwise with the Portman Group's Code could be taken into account by the ASA in its interpretation of the relevant CAP Code requirements on alcohol advertising and other activities.
And it is also worth noting that the Portman Group Code, for all its limitations, does extend into areas over which the ASA claims no jurisdiction – including packaging and the content of brands' websites.
The ban on alcohol brands appearing on children's sports replica kit has been described in some quarters as disproportionate. It is argued that there is no evidence of any link between branding on replica football shirts etc and alcohol-related harm. The financial impact on sports organisations on the other hand, in terms of lost sales revenue and reduced sponsorship opportunities, may be significant. It is also argued that it is generally older children, aged 14-17, who are most likely to be at risk of alcohol-related harm and that many of these would wear adult-sized replica kit, which falls outside the new rule.
As for younger children, it is probably safe to assume that a black market will emerge in counterfeit children's size replica kit featuring all the authentic alcohol branding that they see their favourite football and rugby players wearing.
Osborne Clarke, London