Alcohol industry unveils first UK-wide responsible sponsorship code

Alcohol brands must ensure their sponsorship campaigns promote responsible drinking and are funding grassroots activations as part of the industry’s first UK-wide sponsorship code.

Heineken has been using its sponsorship of the Champions League to promote responsible drinking.

The formal code from industry body the Portman Group attempts to quell concerns from the Government and health charities that events sponsored by drinks brands encourage alcohol abuse.

Other rules include preventing alcohol companies from sponsoring events where at least 75 per cent of the spectators are aged 18-and under and not working with rights holders primarily targeting those too young to drink. Brewers such as AB InBev and Heineken already adhere to many of the codes with their existing sponsorships but the formalised code aims to bolster the industry’s self-regulatory efforts.

The code has been in development for more than two years and was originally mooted as part of the industry’s responsibility deal with the Government.

Henry Ashworth, chief executive of the Portman Group, says the code is an “important gear change” that shows the industry is “constantly raising the bar when it comes to responsible alcohol marketing”. Drinks makers will work with rights holders such as AEG, the Rugby Football Union (RFU), the Lawn Tennis Association and the Premier League to enforce the code.

In turn, AB InBev’s Stella Artois is to introduce an online tool to ensure that all bar staff are trained in responsible service at the Open Championship. Diageo’s Guinness is to run a “DrinkiQ” educational programme to educate rugby players about the effects of excessive drinking as part of its sponsorship of the RFU. Meanwhile, Pernod Ricard’s Jacob’s Creek will use its Wimbledon sponsorship to promote responsible drinking.

The code is voluntary and will be enforced by the Portman Group, which is funded by the UK’s nine biggest producers and has 140 signatories. The trade body is also working with the Government to shape its alcohol strategy aimed at tackling binge drinking.

Advertising trade body ISBA welcomed the code. Director of public affairs Ian Twinn says: “The sponsorship code augments the self-regulatory system we have in the UK, which encourages responsible marketing and responsible drinking.”

Alcohol Concern, however, says the code “offers nothing to meaningfully reform how alcohol is promoted.” Tom Smith policy programme manager adds: “It looks like big business is taking action but the reality pretty much stays the same.

“The Government acknowledges the link between alcohol advertising and consumption, particularly in children and young people, which is why we need to remove alcohol sponsorship from all sporting, cultural and music events.”

Portman Group’s code of practice on alcohol sponsorship:

  • Drinks companies must ensure an “integral part” of their sponsorship campaigns promote responsible drinking and support community activities.
  • Drinks brands cannot support individuals under the age of 18 nor can they sponsor rights holders aimed at those under the legal drinking age.
  • Companies must ensure at least 75 per cent of the audiences are aged over 18.
  • Drinks makers cannot sponsor individuals, events or groups that encourage alcohol misuse.
  • Brands must not use images of people who look under 25-years of age that suggest they are drinking alcohol. Images may be used where people only appear in an incidental context.
  • Sponsorships must not imply alcohol can enhance sporting performance or social success.

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