Faced with depressing alcohol misuse statistics, the Scottish Government has acted to clamp down on “two for one” and other retail drinks promotions. Recent CAP/BCAP Guidance points out that these rule changes could also impact advertising south of the border, as Stephen Groom reports.
Who: The Scottish Government and the Committee of Advertising Practice
When: 1 October 2011
The Alcohol etc. (Scotland) Act 2010 came into force on 1 October 2011, followed on 12 October 2011 by a Guidance Note on its national implications for advertisers from the Committee of Advertising Practice and the Broadcast Committee of Advertising Practice entitled "Impact of Alcohol etc. (Scotland) Act on Alcoholic Drinks Promotions.".
With far more serious alcohol misuse problems than the rest of the UK, Scotland has long been in the vanguard when it comes to "calling time" on booze-related commercial activity which it regards as contributing to the crisis.
This time the focus is on price related promotions and the measure is not a dram but legislation amending the Licensing (Scotland) Act 2005 and the Civic Government (Scotland) Act 1982.
With effect from 1 October 2011, new restrictions have been in force on the retailing of alcoholic drinks in Scotland in off-licensed premises.
Two key new rules
There are 2 key new rules.
The first runs as follows:
"A package containing two or more alcoholic products (whether of the same or different kinds) may only be sold on [off-licence] premises at a price equal to or greater than the sum of the prices at which each alcoholic product is for sale on the premises."
In other words, the rule prevents retailers from selling alcoholic products packaged together at a lower price than the customer could buy the same products for individually.
But what if the shop does not sell individual cans or bottles? Then life will be a little easier.
The rule applies "only where each of the alcoholic products is for sale on the premises separately." Therefore if an outlet only sells multi can or bottle packs, it will not be illegal for example to sell an 8 can pack at less than double the price of a 4 pack.
So the new restrictions actually make it more attractive for retailers to sell multi packs of booze than individual bottles or cans.
This is perhaps strange for a measure designed to reduce alcohol consumption.
The second new rule prohibits "irresponsible" drinks promotions. One of the ways in which a promotion can be irresponsible is if it "involves the supply of an alcoholic drink free of charge or at a reduced price on the purchase of one or more drinks."
Official guidance tells us that examples of such promotions would include:
- buy one, get one free
- three for the price of two
- five for the price of four
- three bottles of wine for £10 (though if the bottles are £3.33 each normally it is unclear why this would break the rule)
- buy six, get 20% off
One other change actually sees a relaxation of the previous position in the retail environment. Before 1 October 2011 for both on sales and off sales in Scotland, a promotion was regarded as "irresponsible" if it "encourages, or seeks to encourage, a person to buy or consume a larger measure of alcohol than the person had otherwise intended to consume".
Now, this rule only applies in the on sale scenario, in pubs, bars, restaurants etc.
Why this matters:
National retailers and alcohol brands need to think carefully about these new rules just as much as those operating in Scotland alone.
CAP/BCAP advise in their Guidance that booze brand owners and retailers alike should pay close attention to these new rules when running promotions in England, Wales and Northern Ireland which would fall foul of these new laws if run in Scotland.
Two main pieces of advice are given .in the Guidance for such situations.
Firstly, wherever possible, it would be helpful, the Guidance courteously suggests, if advertisers arranged their media schedules in a way that prevented advertising for this type of promotion from appearing in Scotland.
If this is not always possible, as the Guidance admits may be the case, then "it might be appropriate" the Guidance suggests, to include a disclaimer on advertisements and marketing communications which are likely to be seen in Scotland "and also seen in other parts of the UK by consumers who may subsequently travel to Scotland."
However the Guidance concedes that such a disclaimer may not be necessary if the advertising is in non Scottish regional media and the advertiser has a "strong expectation that their advertisement will be seen or heard in a regional context."
The bottom line so far as the Guidance is concerned is whether, based on the type and media reach of the advertising in question, the punter would expect the promotion to be available in Scotland. A not entirely helpful example cited by the Guidance is consumer travelling from London to Edinburgh who may en route see an alcoholic drinks promotion by a national retailer and based on that, plan to take advantage of it on arrival, only to be disappointed.
It is not clear, however, whether this would for example put poster sites in sight of the London-Edinburgh mainline off limits and the tentative tone adopted by the Guidance speaks volumes about the essential unworkability of this legislation when it operates in only one part of the UK.