Nearly half of alcohol complaints about under-18 appeal

The Portman Group upheld more than double the number of alcohol complaints in 2023 compared with 2022, with nearly half found to appeal to children.

The Portman Group, the UK’s alcohol social responsibility and marketing self-regulator, upheld 13 complaints this year, compared with five last year. Four complaints were not upheld in 2023, compared with 16 in 2022.

However, the overall number of complaints received by the Portman Group’s Independent Complaints Panel (ICP) fell from 60 in 2022 to 42 this year.

The Portman Group noticed a rise in upheld complaints this year over alcoholic products that breached Code Rule 3.2 (h) – which states an alcoholic drink’s naming, packaging and any promotional material or activity should not, in any direct or indirect way, have a particular appeal to under-18s.

Nearly half of the cases considered by the ICP this year were upheld under this rule, compared with three in 2022.

Three complaints were upheld under Code rule 3.2 (b), which states alcohol products should not suggest any link with bravado, or with violent, aggressive, dangerous, anti-social or illegal behaviour.

Two cases were upheld for linking directly to guns: Au Vodka’s Gold Gang Money Gun and Cosa Nostra Scotch Whisky.

Three complaints were also upheld under Code rule 3.3, which states a drink’s name, packaging and any promotional material should not cause serious or widespread offence.

Matt Lambert, Portman Group CEO, said: “While we have seen a significant rise in upheld complaints this year, it is reassuring as the alcohol industry’s self-regulator to see robust decisions being made by the panel, and irresponsible and inappropriate products being removed from the market as a result, in turn driving industry change and protecting consumers.

“It is encouraging that for all of the cases upheld for having a particular appeal to under-18s, the producers in question took immediate action to remove the products from the market following the decisions of the panel, demonstrating the efficiency of the self-regulatory model and the industry’s commitment to improving standards and marketing responsibly.”

In July this year, the Portman Group updated its guidance regarding appealing to under-18s using advice from a children’s marketing agency.

The amended rule now explicitly prohibits brand names, logos and trademarks on merchandise that has particular appeal to under-18s or is intended for use primarily by under-18s and prevents any link between alcohol and childhood.

“Our primary purpose is to protect consumers from harm, particularly those who may be vulnerable, so a fundamental priority is protecting those who are under 18, and as such we have bolstered our guidance and amended our Code this year to provide even further clarity to producers,” Lambert added.

“I would encourage all producers who are unsure of the requirements under the Code to contact the Portman Group’s free and confidential Advisory Service.”

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Author: Nicola Carruthers