Backing The Wrong Horse

Posted on May 30, 2012


In direct contrast to the Government’s Alcohol Strategy planning to minimise the harmful effects of alcohol advertising Alun Cairns, MP for the Vale of Glamorgan,  is seeking a debate in Parliament’s Westminster Hall to highlight what he sees as the stifling of the alcohol advertising industry.

Mr Cairns remembers fondly the Hofmeister Bear ( obviously I’m too young and had to google it…..), when Heineken refreshed the parts others couldn’t and Guinness was good for you and fears the “fun” is being taken out of alcohol advertising. Furthermore states Mr Cairns “there is a huge concern about red tape and its impact on creativity and our advertising industry, which is world-class.”

TV ads fall under the regulatory approval of the Broadcast Committee of Advertising Practice (BCAP) which has a specific section for alcohol . In case it hasn’t made your bedtime reading list yet the main headline is this ;

Advertisements for alcoholic drinks should not be targeted at people under 18 years of age and should not imply, condone or encourage immoderate, irresponsible or anti-social drinking. The spirit as well as the letter of the rules in this section applies.
The rules in this section apply to advertisements for alcoholic drinks and advertisements that feature or refer to alcoholic drinks. Alcoholic drinks are defined as those containing at least 0.5% alcohol; for the purposes of this Code low-alcohol drinks are defined as drinks containing between 0.5% and 1.2% alcohol.
Where stated, exceptions are made for low-alcohol drinks. But, if an advertisement for a low-alcohol drink could be considered to promote a stronger alcoholic drink or if the low-alcohol content of a drink is not stated clearly in the advertisement, all the rules in this section apply.
If a soft drink is promoted as a mixer, the rules in this section apply in full.
The rules are not intended to inhibit responsible advertisements that are intended to counter problem drinking or tell consumers about alcohol-related health or safety themes. Those advertisements should not be likely to promote an alcohol product or brand.

Not the most thrilling read, and in a former life I’ve read the whole code, but I’m at a loss to see where it prohibits advertising creativity. I agree that the UK have produced some of the best alcohol advertising in the world but I fail to see how advertisers can’t continue to do so and comply with regulations. Maybe I’ve fallen victim to the nanny state but I don’t want children encouraged to drink and most of the “fun” beer ads are horrendous – they all too often make beer seem like a crass, down-market rival to it’s more sophisticated cousin wine and that’s tedious. Beer advertising can be creative and beautiful as demonstrated by the Greene King ad, I’d rather follow that than any bear!

But if Mr Cairns is hell-bent on tackling alcohol advertising rules what he should raise a debate on is relaxing the rules around beers below 2.8% ABV – in line with the Chancellor’s duty break on the same. The Government are keen to encourage beer drinkers to choose a lower alcohol beer and brewers are slowly starting to rise to the challenge of brewing them (with Adnams Sole Star being the winner to date) only they’re not allowed to overtly mention it’s a lower ABV alternative to encourage drinkers to buy it.

The challenge being that the DOH Public Health Responsibility Deal published at the same time committed to removing 1bn units of alcohol sold annually from the market by Dec 2015. But promoting lower ABV beers would help I hear you cry, well yes, assuming people trade down from a 5% ABV beer but what if they trade up from an orange juice – that, it seems, is bad news and won’t help the DOH meet their targets.

For a brand to engage consumers they need to be able to communicate the drinker needs and benefits and unless the ASA and BCAP relax the rules beers below 2.8% languish in an advertising vacuum where they can’t make a virtue of their reduced alcohol content.  Being able to market low strength beer is fundamental to actually selling it.

If Mr Cairns is seeking a parliamentary debate that seems a much more sensible subject than bringing back crass 70’s adverts.