Diageo has been found in breach of marketing rules for using a counter-top promotional unit that could encourage irresponsible, impulse purchases.

A complaint was made over the irresponsible nature of a colourful unit used to promote Diageo products in-store to Northampton Borough Council’s licensing team.

The complainant also argued the unit would also appeal to children.

The Portman Group’s independent complaints panel looked into the case, said it was concerned by the “mix it up” message on the unit and said it breached its code of practice.

“The panel found that the promotion contravened Paragraph 3.2(f) of the Code of Practice on the Naming, Packaging and Promotion of Alcoholic Drinks, which prohibits any encouragement of illegal, irresponsible or immoderate consumption,” said the Portman Group.

It comes weeks after the Portman Group was embroiled in a war of words with Pernod Ricard over a ruling, and Diageo responded in a similarly vociferous manner.

A spokesman said: “We apply extremely high standards to all Diageo marketing, so the Portman Group panel’s decision is disappointing.

“We simply do not agree with the Panel’s view that this unit encouraged irresponsible or immoderate consumption. The unit clearly stated that each 20cl bottle contained eight drinks in each bottle and, we believe that this and the rest of the packaging encouraged responsible consumption by informing the consumer of the number of standard 25ml measures in each bottle and suggesting that they make mixed drinks to share.
“Whilst we respect the panel’s ruling, we had, in any event, already updated the unit for commercial reasons some months before we were notified of the complaint and we can reassure retailers that the current redesigned counter top unit is compliant with all codes and will remain in circulation.”

The Portman Group’s panel noted that Diageo had already redesigned the counter-top unit to omit the “mix it up tonight” message before the complaint was made. The panel said it was “therefore satisfied that no further remedial action was required from the company”.

Henry Ashworth, Portman Group chief executive, said: “Caution should be exercised when it comes to messaging on packaging and promotions – particularly where more than one variety of alcohol is on sale from the same point. I would encourage all producers to consult our free and confidential Code Advisory Service if in any doubt whether their products adhere to industry standards.”

The complaint regarding the appeal of the product to under-18s was not upheld.