Law Commission to booze marketers: “Woooaaaah, Nelly”

A sobering report released today by the Law Commission on the sale and promotion of liquor recommends significant changes to how it is marketed in New Zealand. So, marketers in the liquor industry and agencies with liquor and supermarket accounts need to prepare themselves.

The main recommendations are:

  • No total ban on alcohol advertising and sponsorship (that’s the good news for those in the industry)
  • A three-stage restriction on alcohol sponsorship and advertising over five years (that’s the start of the bad news)
  • Stage one would include legislative changes to make it an offence to promote or advertise alcohol in a manner likely to have special appeal to persons under the age of 20 (note the appeal need not be limited to those under 20)
  • Stage two would include a 10pm watershed for television and radio advertising, no advertising on public transport, in cinemas (except at R18 or above movies) or at sport or cultural events (including sports club bars)
  • Stage three (yes, there is more) would include restricting any remaining advertising to messages and images referring only to qualities of the product, such as origin, composition, means of production and patterns of consumption, no sponsorship of sporting or cultural events and no advertising in publications read mainly by those under 20 years
  • A final goal of legislative restrictions on advertising and sponsorship that allow only objective product information.

Time will tell which recommendations Government will adopt. But there can be little doubt change is coming.

Whatever happens from here, the direction of change is clearly towards greater control over the promotion of liquor. The Law Commission report is the latest signal of that shift. Indeed, some things have already changed: we now have the ASA Code for the Naming, Packaging and Promotion of Liquor and the Complaints Board for that Code meets for the first time next month.

The question is how much direct Government control there should be. The Law Commission says “lots”. Liquor producers and retailers, on the other hand, are trying to show that they have self-control and therefore direct government control is not needed. Complying with the new (and existing) ASA Codes will support that self-control argument.

Suffice to say, now is not the best time for a sexy and/or provocative alcohol campaign. Bear in mind what the Commission had to say about a particular campaign in its Issues Paper in 2009:

Consider that in New Zealand the Code for Advertising Liquor requires that advertisements not be “sexually provocative or suggestive or suggest any link between liquor and sexual attraction or performance”. While recognising the humorous context, the central feature of a recent advertising campaign for a well-known beer brand was the physical attractiveness of the female ‘employees’ featured in the set of advertisements. In this way, self-regulatory systems can permit promotions that connect alcohol products with aspirational values or underlying messages in a way that a more prescriptive regime … would not.

So there’s lots of change to come in this massive advertising category.

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