Undeterred by the heady brew of alcohol advertising and labelling codes that already assails the industry, the Scotch Whisky Association has published its own ‘Code of Practice for the Reponsible (sic) Marketing and Promotion of Scotch Whisky.’ We sample the blend and ask if, despite the £10,000 fine for misbehaving members, it adds anything valuable to the regulatory matrix.
Who: The Scotch Whisky Association
When: August 2005
The Scotch Whisky Association, representing Scotch Whisky distillers, bottlers and brand owners, published a "Code of Practice, for the reponsible (sic) Marketing and Promotion of Scotch Whisky".
The Code will be enforced by an independent complaints panel which will have the power to impose sanctions on brand owners which might include fines of up to £10,000, whilst the panel's decisions will be publicised to retailers, local authorities and other regulators.
For the moment, the Code's introduction states, it will apply to members' marketing of Scotch Whisky in the UK only. In due course however, the plan is that the Code will cover all Scotch Whisky marketing and promotion activity globally.
SWA members include Diageo, Allied Domecq, Chivas Brothers and Whyte & Mackay.
The objectives of the Code, we are told, are to ensure continued social acceptance of alcoholic drinks by encouraging the responsible consumption of Scotch Whisky in a manner which is compatible with a balanced and healthy lifestyle and supporting the UK Department of Health's "sensible drinking" message.
The principles of the Code cover all commercial activities and communications in relation to Scotch Whisky, including brand merchandising and promotional material, product labelling and packaging, point of sale material, tastings, sponsorship, press releases and websites. Also embraced is internet and text message advertising as well as product placement.
Beyond existing codes
The Code accepts that by spreading itself so widely, it overlaps with the Portman Group Code and what it describes as the rules and principles of the Advertising Standards Authority/Ofcom but is in reality the British Code of Advertising, Sales Promotion and Direct Marketing.
Some areas where this new Code extends beyond the remit of the CAP Code, however, are website content and press releases, which the CAP Code emphatically does not cover.
Highlights of the SWA Code's requirements include:
- promotional and marketing activity should not seek to challenge the choice of some people not to drink alcoholic drinks;
- communications should be placed in print and in electronic media outlets only where a clear majority of the audience is reasonably expected to be above the legal purchase age;
- " brand logos and names should be avoided on clothes (other than where covered by the Code principles relating to sponsorship), toys, games or other items intended for use primarily by persons below the legal purchase age;
- " products should not be advertised or marketed in a manner associated with the attainment of adulthood or the "rite of passage" to adulthood;
- " the alcoholic nature of a drink should be communicated on its packaging with absolute clarity, in line with national legal requirements;
- " undue emphasis should not be placed on high alcohol content as the principal basis of appeal to the consumer;
- " tastings should not promote or encourage drinking in conjunction with reckless and/or irresponsible behaviour, nor involve drinking games or activities that have speed incentives, or that require excessive quantities of alcohol to be consumed within a short time period;
- " as part of the instructions on brand positioning and promotion to bartenders, marketing teams, brand ambassadors and others, companies should consider providing appropriate server training;
- " company websites should carry in a prominent position a responsible drinking message, with reference to the SWA Code and their own company code if it exists;
- " websites should not offer ring tones, games or downloads that would be of appeal to persons under the legal drinking age;
- " sponsorship of activities which may be dangerous after alcohol consumption (motor racing, sailing, skiing) is not necessarily in breach of this code, but companies will wish to ensure that no link is made to suggest that alcohol consumption is appropriate while undertaking such activities or that success in these pursuits is enhanced by alcohol consumption
SWA members are encouraged to charge a senior director with responsibility for ensuring compliance with the Code, and it is suggested that where possible this director should be separate from the advertising and marketing departments and from the development of promotional materials.
Companies are also encouraged to ensure that external consultants such as public relations, marketing and advertising agencies are aware of the principles and provisions of the Code.
The complaints committee may, having upheld a complaint, require swift remedial action to be taken to end the conduct which has found to be in breach of the Code and it may impose a fine payable to the Scotch Whisky Association not exceeding £10,000.
Failure to take remedial action or to pay a fine on demand may result in the company's membership of the SWA being terminated.
Why this matters:
Although on the face of it this is a laudable initiative, there has to be concern as to whether it uncomfortably overlaps with existing regulatory systems applicable to alcohol advertising. As reported on marketinglaw, for instance, the rules for broadcast and non broadcast advertising of alcoholic drinks contained in the broadcast and non broadcast Code have recently undergone significant changes. In some areas the SWA Code is consistent with those changes but in others it goes beyond it or differs from it.
There is also of course the point that only members of the SWA are bound by the Code, but all marketing agencies involved with Scotch Whisky advertising accounts, whether or not their clients are SWA members, would do well to read the Code and bear in mind its provisions. The Code may be found at www.scotch-whisky.org.uk