Diageo marketing comes under fire from MPs

Andy Fennell, chief marketing officer at Diageo, has come under fire from MPs over a link between the company’s brands and irresponsible drinking.

Andy Fennell
Andy Fennell

Diageo customer insight research that discussed the alcoholic strength of one of the drinks maker’s brands and implied a link between alcohol and masculinity was labelled a “disgrace” by Labour MP Stephen Hesford.

Appearing in front of the Health Committee inquiry on alcohol misuse, Fennell says Diageo has a “strong” internal process to ensure that its marketing does not promote irresponsible drinking, adding that the research was “rejected at stage one”.

“No customer communication could have, would have been actioned from this,” he says.

Fennell also called for tighter regulation, or “external backstops”, of marketing communications on company websites to “catch up” with Diageo’s own internal code of practice on marketing, which he says is the same across all media.

Meanwhile, Committee member Sandra Gidley described existing restrictions aimed at preventing under-18s accessing alcohol brands’ website as “non-existent”.

Hearing evidence from digital agencies AKQA, Five by Five and Bray Leino, several committee members said the process, which prompts entrants to input their date of birth prior to entering the site, was not sufficient to prevent underage drinkers accessing websites.

Dr Howard Stoate, Labour MP for Dartford, says that access to marketing on the sites is not “policeable” and there is “no protection for vulnerable young people and adults”

However, Nick Gill, digital planner with Five by Five, which counts WKD as a client, says the process is a “collective and accepted way of doing things, adding that many ISPs have parental controls that can restrict access to sites.

Also, representatives from creative agencies BJL, JWT, Big Communications and BMB defended the current regulatory system for alcohol advertising.

Charlotte Thompson, head of business development at, BJL, which handles Lambrini, says “The UK regulatory system is held up as an example of best practice across Europe”.

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