REVIEW OF ITC CODE OF ADVERTISING STANDARDS AND PRACTICE
– RESPONSE OF THE PORTMAN GROUP
1. The Portman Group [TPG] was set up in 1989 by the UK=s major
alcoholic drinks manufacturers. Its purpose is to promote sensible
drinking; to help prevent alcohol misuse; and to foster a balanced
understanding of alcohol-related issues.
2. TPG speaks for its member companies1 on these social aspects of
alcohol. It does not represent any drinks companies or other part of the
trade on any other matter.
3. TPG nevertheless welcomes the participation of the wider drinks industry -
manufacturers, wholesalers and retailers - in its activities, for example as
signatories to the Code of Practice, or in using the Proof of Age Card
scheme, and believes that the drinks industry can thereby demonstrate its
social responsibility, help to protect its commercial freedoms and enhance
its success in a manner consistent with good citizenship.
4. In view of our remit, we have confined our comments to the rules relating
to the advertising of alcoholic drinks.
5. We believe that, because of the harm that can be caused by alcohol
misuse, the alcohol industry has an obligation to society to ensure it
markets its products in a responsible manner. The ITC’s Advertising
Code, and the proper enforcement of that Code, is crucial to the industry’s
fulfilment of this obligation.
6. In general, we are happy with the revised rules and, in particular, approve
of the attempts to make the rules clearer and easier to use.
7. We believe, however, that the effectiveness of an Advertising Code is
determined not so much by the wording of the rules but rather more the
interpretation of those rules. There is inevitably a degree of subjectivity
involved in the application of the rules. Advertisers, naturally, will seek to
exploit the limits of the Code as determined by the regulator.
8. The situation can therefore arise whereby the regulator interprets the
Code in a more lenient way than some, or even the majority, of the public.
Whereas this means that advertisers are given greater freedom in their
1 Bacardi Martini, Pernod Ricard UK, Diageo, HP Bulmer, Interbrew UK, Scottish &
Newcastle and Six Continents Retail.
styles of advertising, it can also lead to a perception among the public that
the advertising rules are being ignored. This perception is clearly not in
the interest of the regulator. Neither is it necessarily in the interest of
9. This is particularly so in the case of the alcohol industry, which is subject
to special advertising rules because of the potential harm caused by
alcohol misuse. The perception that these rules are being flouted may
lead to accusations that the alcohol industry is socially irresponsible and
could even lead to calls for alcohol advertising to be banned.
10. We therefore believe that it would be beneficial to review the application of
the alcohol advertising rules to ensure that they are not being interpreted
too leniently (or too strictly). This review, which could be extended to
include the other advertising Codes and could involve non-industry
stakeholders such as Alcohol Concern, should involve a re-examination of
exactly what the rules are seeking to achieve.
11. As an example, a particular rule that we believe requires review in its
interpretation is rule 12.8.1(c) in the draft ITC Code, stating that
advertisements “must not suggest that alcohol can contribute to sexual
success”. In our opinion, alcohol advertisements are increasingly
employing sexual themes and innuendo, yet are not apparently in breach
of this rule. This trend is in danger of damaging the industry’s claim to be
socially responsible. We believe that this is certainly a rule that would
benefit from discussion as to its intention and application.
Comments on Specific Rules
12. While acknowledging above that the wording of the rules is not necessarily
as important as their interpretation, there are nonetheless certain
comments that we have concerning specific rules in the new draft Code.
13. We note that old rule 40(j), disallowing the portrayal of drinking in a
working environment, has been dropped. Although no explanation has
been given for this, we are not unduly concerned by the deletion. There
are circumstances in which moderate consumption of alcohol in a working
environment is both accepted and non-harmful, for example during a
business lunch. We presume, however, that any inappropriate portrayals
would be disallowed by other rules, for example, that relating to the use of
dangerous machinery. That said, if valid concerns are raised in your
consultation that suggest the restoration of the rule is desirable, we would
have no objection to this.
14. We assume, and have been orally assured, that the deletion of old rule
40(m), disallowing the use of humour to circumvent the rules, does not
signify a change of policy by the ITC. The rules are there to protect the
public and should be observed by all advertisements regardless of
whether humour is employed. Given, however, that there apparently is
nothing in either the old or new Code to suggest that humour is an
acceptable way of circumventing the rules, we agree that the rule was
unnecessary because it was stating the obvious.
15. We note that new rule 12.8.1(c) states that advertisements must not
“associate drinking with attractiveness”. This is a stricter wording than old
rule 40(g), which stated that advertisements should not suggest that
drinking “can enhance sexual attractiveness”. The new wording could
result in complaints against alcohol advertisements simply on the grounds
that the advertisements feature attractive people. We assume that this is
not the intent of the rule and it may therefore be necessary to revise this
16. New rule 12.8.1(d) states that advertisements must not suggest “that
regular solitary drinking is acceptable”. While this is not a new
requirement, we wonder whether it is appropriate. It is presumably in the
Code to discourage people from drinking to overcome loneliness or
boredom and is in recognition of the fact that those who drink alone, as
opposed to in the company of others, are more likely to develop alcohol
problems. On the other hand, solitary drinking does not inevitably lead to
problems and many people living alone might choose to drink but for not
for unwise reasons. Perhaps it would therefore be better to state that
advertisements “must not suggest that drinking can overcome boredom,
loneliness or other problems”.
17. Old rule 40(d) has effectively been translated into new rule 12.8.1(e),
which states that advertisements “must not suggest that alcohol has
therapeutic qualities nor offer it as a stimulant, sedative or tranquilliser”.
An additional part of the old rule, however, required that advertisements
“must not give any impression that performance can be improved by
drink”. We are a little concerned that an advertisement may suggest an
improvement in performance without necessarily implying therapeutic,
stimulant, sedative or tranquillising effects. For example, an advertiser
might suggest that their product improves stamina or strength, or even
mental performance by way of concentration or intelligence. It was these
kinds of suggestion, albeit in a light hearted way, that caused the
Heineken “Refreshes the parts” campaign to be criticised some years ago.
You may feel confident that these portrayals would constitute breaches of
12.8.1(e) as currently worded. If, however, you have any doubts about
this, particularly as the alcohol industry has effectively started venturing
into the functional foods arena through adding stimulants into some drinks,
it may be sensible to include an explicit prohibition on the suggestion that
drinking can improve mental or physical performance.