Alcohol marketing has a strict set of rules as defined by the Portman Group.  This means you cannot use words or imagery which may attract under age drinkers, associate drinking with physical, mental or sexual success, encourage irresponsible or rapid drinking or emphasise the high alcoholic strength of the drink.  Any marketing which encourages anti social behaviour and encourages violence or aggression is also frowned upon.  To avoid marketing appearing to target young people, they recommend that no person who appears under 25 is used is marketing, making theirs a pretty encompassing set of rules.

So when Bartex launched a vodka called Red Army with a glass bottle shaped like a sub machine gun, complete with a set of shot glasses and a grenade shaped bottle for behind the bar, they must have known they had broken a whole raft of rules and would be referred to the complaints panel before they even clicked send on the promotional email.  Of course, the complaint was upheld as the name, packaging and associated marketing all breached the regulations.

If a complaint is upheld like this, then an alert is sent out to retailers asking them not to place any orders for the offending product after a period of up to 90 days decided by the panel.  Other complaints which have been upheld recently include Loko for a using a word meaning madness and therefore encouraging irresponsible drinking, whilst Dr Von Hydes Herbal Liquor was ruled against because fake medical claims and the use of the word Doctor in the name implied medical benefits.

Lets question how effective this whole system is.   The company get some initial publicity from the product launch, then they get even more publicity in the trade press regarding the complaint (and if they are lucky some of the red top tabloids will express moral outrage as well).  Then when the decision goes against them, they get more publicity but still have up to three months to sell the product before retailers may stop buying it.  It is then relaunched towards the end of this period in a normal bottle and you have a rather more successful product launch than “planned”.

The phrase “There is no such thing as bad publicity” is certainly true here.  I had never heard of this Red Army vodka before reading of the ruling, but now I know of the product, who makes it, its packaging and that it is yet another vodka my body would refuse to drink after a bad experience at 17 with too much 140 proof polish vodka brought back from a college trip to Russia.    It is what I call the Daily Mail effect, if you can’t get enough attention, do something to offend the Daily Mail and you’ll have a 2 page spread before you know it.

It is interesting that most complaints (and those which are upheld) are against smaller producers with relatively few concerning the larger operations, the exceptions regarding super strength beers such as Tennants Super and Special Brew.  The Portman Group membership is made up of the major brewers in this country with household names such as ABInBev, Carlsberg, Diageo, Heineken, SAB Miller and Molson Coors listed as members.   Other alcohol producing operations sign up to the code of conduct promising to behave responsibly, of which there are over 140.  However even if you have not signed up to this code of conduct you can be referred to the Portman Group by a complainant and for example Brewdog have been referred a handful of times with a roughly 50-50 success rate in getting the complaint being dismissed.

The same organisation run the drinkaware website which you will see mentioned in most alcohol advertising whether it be in print, on radio or TV.  As expected, this is on the side of health when it comes to alcohol use and can even allow you to track your unit intake over time if you so feel the need to.  It preaches social responsibility, emphasises the negative effects of alcohol and keeping to the recommended weekly limits of 21 units for men and 14 units for women, a figure with no scientific grounds and one which was picked out of the air by the government in 1992.

How many of us have ever visited this site, I only did so in the name of research.  The point is most of us are adults who can take responsible decisions regarding our drinking, sure we all occasionally have too much to drink when we do not intend to, but if life was all pre-planned, it would be boring,  As long as you cause no issues or harm to anybody else and are in pleasant spirits then it does no harm.

 

  1. pauline osborne says:

    very good article, straight to the point well done……