Overhaul of online alcohol advertising laws due in weeks

19 July, 2013

An overhaul of the way drinks companies use social media is expected within two weeks as the Advertising Standards Authority prepares to tighten its laws.

This week Hi-Spirits was found to have breached the ASA code for the third time this year after a complaint from Alcohol Concern’s Youth Advertising Alcohol Council.

Tom Smith, who heads the council, told OLN the code is not fit for purpose and reiterated his claims that “the sanctions the ASA has at its disposal do not deter repeat offenders such as Fireball Whisky who break the rules time after time”.

Three complaints were upheld against Hi-Spirits’ Fireball whisky liqueur brand for using material on its Facebook page that was deemed socially irresponsible because it would “encourage excessive drinking and styles of drinking that were unwise, exploit the young” and “present alcohol as indispensable in life”.

The ASA is in the second year of an extended remit that sees it police social media and online channels, and it has been conducting a year-long review of whether it needs to tighten its rules.

ASA spokesman Matthew Wilson told OLN: “Within the next two weeks we are publishing a survey we have conducted with young people.

“That’s going to inform our work going forward so we can look at whether we need to tighten our rules, what we need to do to challenge the industry and things like tightening up age-gating restrictions.

“This report will give us extra ammunition.”

Fireball’s Facebook page featured material about binge drinking on bar crawls, pre-loading on whisky, stumbling over after drinking too much whisky, dumping a boyfriend for more whisky and questioning whether anything was more important than whisky.

It received a rap on the knuckles from the ASA in April over Fireball’s Facebook page and in January over its Antica Sambuca brand’s Facebook page. 

Jeremy Hill, chairman of Hi-Spirits, said: “Like other brand owners, we ­continue to work hard to keep our social media compliant with ASA rules while allowing the customer interaction that makes social media relevant. 

“We will continue to do everything possible to ensure all our brands’ social media complies with the requirements of the ASA code.”

Wilson said: “We are not pleased to see that Hi-Spirits have got it wrong and breached the code again, but we are seeing a willingness in them to co-operate and we are working closely with the company to ensure it gets it right in future.”

He added: “The alcohol industry is generally very good at being socially responsible.

“Alcohol Concern would like young people to see no alcohol advertising at all, but we know young people are going to see ads for age-restricted products – we just want to make sure these ads are not targeted at young people and are socially responsible.”

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