Brand owners slam BMA report

Diageo, Molson Coors, Halewood International and Beverage Brands have hit back at a report in which they were accused of manipulating advertising rules in order to target under-age drinkers.

The report, published today by the British Medical Journal, analysed ad industry documents for WKD, Smirnoff, Carling, Lambrini and Sidekick.

The documents included client briefs to agencies, media schedules and market research reports that were filed to the House of Commons Health Select Committee alcohol inquiry, which published its findings earlier this month.

The report, written by Gerard Hastings, focused on four themes banned by the advertising code: appealing to under-18s, encouraging irresponsible drinking, sponsorship and new media.

It claimed market research data on 15 and 16 year olds was used to “guide campaign development and deployment”, while references were made about the need to recruit drinkers and establish their loyalty to a particular brand.

Simon Litherland, managing director for Diageo GB said: “This article is a gross misrepresentation of the strict internal marketing process that Diageo applies, and a distortion of the evidence we provided to the Health Select Committee as part of its inquiry.

“We are extremely disappointed that the confidential and commercially sensitive information shared with the committee, in good faith, has been made available for Professor Hastings’s use in pursuing his own public agenda.

“During oral evidence to the committee, we responded to the claims raised in the article and were also clear that inappropriate consumer views and early proposals pitched into the marketing process are rejected at the first hurdle and never form part of any campaign run by Diageo.”

Mark Hunter, chief executive of Molson Coors, said: “We think it is a shame that in a week when we should be focused on the positive policy proposals and public debate on key ways to reduce alcohol harm such sensational assertions are being made.

“Molson Coors (UK) is pleased to see the recent policy proposals are focused on targeting disrespectful, harmful attitudes towards alcohol, without punishing the responsible consumer – such as including strengthening age verification and a serious look at minimum pricing to address 'loss leader' retailer sales.

“We agree that binge and under-age drinking should not be socially acceptable, or enabled. For us, ensuring beer is enjoyed responsibly – and not bought on the basis of price, but on the basis of brand and taste – is an important way to reduce harm.”

Graham Oak, marketing director of Halewood International, said: “The vast majority of the information we supplied to the Health Select Committee related to campaigns and activities which ran several years ago and which were conceived in an environment where different standards were in place from both a regulatory perspective and what was deemed to be socially acceptable.

“Historic material created in a different environment is essentially being judged against current standards which creates a misleading image of the company and this is just not acceptable.

“We believe the solution to the problems of under-age, anti-social and binge-drinking needs numerous stakeholders, from retailers and brand owners through to GPs and community policing, to work collaboratively. As a company we are totally committed to supporting this type of integrated approach and the drinks industry already has a number of initiatives in place including working in partnership with local authorities and others to combat under-age purchase and possession of alcohol.”

Karen Salters, joint managing director of Beverage Brands, said: “We would like to echo the sentiments of the Portman Group’s response to the BMJ article. All WKD advertising follows the tight regulations already in place and is pre-cleared by the relevant authorities.”

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