Remember the Code

Remember the Code

Thoughts from... | 05 Feb 2014 | Issue 117 | By Fred Minnick

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As responsible whisky drinkers, we tend to assume the anti-alcohol mindset is extinct in today's culture. But that notion could not be further from the truth. In the United States, there are hundreds of dry counties and townships that fight to prevent their areas from becoming wet. In South Africa, the country is divided over 'The Control of Marketing Alcoholic Beverages Bill' that would impose an advertising ban on alcohol products. Similar bans already exist in Canada, and the United States faced nearly a dozen attempts to ban alcohol advertising in the 1940s and 1950s.

In addition to governmental control, the alcohol industry faces powerful organisations eager to stop alcohol marketing. In a recent study published in Pediatrics, the official journal of the American Academy of Pediatrics, researchers said younger adolescents are susceptible to the persuasive messages in alcohol TV commercials. While the responsibility should belong to the parents in addressing alcohol, there's no shortage of people eager to lay the blame elsewhere. Studies like the Pediatrics' make the alcohol industry an easy target.

But the spirits industry has an air-tight alibi: They don't target kids and police themselves through industry measures, such as the Distilled Spirits Council of the United States' 'Code of Responsible Practices.' The industry edicts dictate that advertising materials should be placed only where 70 per cent of the audience is 21 years of age or older reasonably expected to be.

Last year, the Center for Alcohol Marketing and Youth said it found a reduction in the exposure of youth to alcohol advertising in magazines, while the U. S. Federal Trade Commission says the alcohol industry's voluntary ad placement is working. Content also matters to the industry, and DISCUS has a 'good taste' clause that states: 'Beverage alcohol advertising and marketing materials should not degrade the image, form, or status of women, men, or of any ethnic, minority, sexually-oriented, religious, or other group.' While liquor brands have been cautious to not promote where the teenagers roam, they are slipping on good taste. Recently, Dewar's was found in violation Provision No. 24 (stated above) with its 'Meet the Baron' ad campaign. The ad begins with a blond man running from apparent trouble. The Baron pulls up in his slick sports car to save his buddy, painting a picture that this Baron is a real pal who comes to your aid in a time of need. Then, the commercial pans to a bar, where the troublemaker is sipping whisky. An overweight woman in a red dress walks toward him, wind blowing in her hair, looking to make an advance. Out of nowhere, the Baron positions himself between the woman and his buddy, cuing up a voiceover: "On the battle field, he wouldn't just take a bullet for you; he'd be the one throwing himself on the explosives." I and other whiskey writers called the ad sexist and misogynistic, while the Huffington Post said the advertisement could fuel the rape culture. Dewar's responded via Twitter: "That blonde woman was a very dangerous criminal and The Baron was merely saving a friend's life." Dewar's took the ad down and deleted the Tweet, but the brand managed to revert back to misogynistic principles, inadvertently poke fun at obesity and damaged its brand identity. This reprehensible marketing style cannot be tolerated. The whisky industry does not have the luxury of Coca-Cola or Hanes underwear; it's akin to the tobacco industry with consumer activist groups just waiting for distilled spirits to slip up.

If more liquor brands pursue demeaning advertisements that break the industry's responsibility codes, spirits executives will find themselves sitting in government hearings trying to avoid sanctions. So, a public service announcement to all marketing directors: You have more than your brand's target audience to worry about. Follow the well-intended DISCUS code and there won't be a problem. Ignore the rules put in place to protect the industry, and you could jeopardize the future of whisky.
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