This article is part of our special report Reviewing Europe’s alcohol harm strategy.
Leading producers from the beer, wine and spirits sectors are set today (16 April) to launch their first joint initiative in advertising self-regulation designed to combat abuses across the fast-growing social media.
Europe’s eight largest alcohol manufacturers have agreed to work with the World Federation of Advertisers (WFA), the European Commission and national associations to implement measures aimed to protect the young and vulnerable from targeted advertising.
The so-called Responsible Marketing Pact, to be launched in Brussels, will create common EU-wide guidelines designed to prevent minors from seeing alcohol ‘viral’ adverts on social media, and prohibit the creation of ads which seek to allure young people.
The signatories include AB InBev, Bacardi, Brown-Forman, Carlsberg, Diageo, Heineken, Pernod Ricard and SAB Miller, which together represent a majority of European alcohol advertising spending.
"The Responsible Marketing Pact breaks new ground because it is the first time major companies from the beer, wine and spirits sectors have come together to seek unified responsibility standards for all alcohol beverage marketing communications,” said Stephan Loerke, managing director at the World Federation of Advertising.
The initiative, he added, "marks a turning point" in the industry's commitment to responsible marketing.
Naming and shaming
Under the pact, standards for age controls will be established along with a common standard that ads may only be placed in media where at least 70% of the audience is expected to be above the legal purchase age.
Once these standards have been agreed, implementation and compliance will be monitored by the audit firm Accenture and national self-regulatory organisations. Sanctions for violations include public naming and shaming, and referral to national regulatory authorities in cases of repeat offences.
The Responsible Marketing Pact takes the form of a “commitment” by the WFA and the companies to the European Alcohol and Health Forum (EAHF). The EAHF is the stakeholder group of the European strategy to support member states in reducing alcohol-related harm (see background).
Alcohol strategy is under review
The move comes at a pivotal time as the European Commission has started assessing the EU alcohol strategy ahead of a full review expected at the beginning of 2013. The EU executive is currently evaluating the policy's effectiveness before considering how it may be updated.
Advertising and marketing – especially through social media – are areas the Commission is expected to consider explicitly in its strategy update.
Advertising standards in relation to alcohol vary considerably across the EU. In France there is a blanket ban on advertising alcohol with limited and strict exceptions. Scandinavian countries also prohibit television and magazine advertising, whilst in other EU countries advertising remains possible though tightly controlled.
The new initiative represents the first time that European companies representing beer, wine and spirits producers have teamed up on the issue.