As part of the celebrations of the 25th year of the Portman Group Code of Practice on Thursday 22 July we held the second of our series of seminars exploring the responsible regulation of alcohol. We looked at the trends of 2021and beyond, spotlighting current and future industry trends.
We were delighted to host two visionary speakers. Dan Hooper is a Co-Founder of YesMore the specialist drinks marketing agency, whose clients include Bacardi, Aperol, Pernod Ricard, Grey Goose and many others. His perspective is informed by trends he sees coming both from their base in Shoreditch, London, as well as Los Angeles and the products of their US based clients.
The Deputy Editor of Just Drinks Andy Morton spent nearly a decade tracking the stories and trends in the drinks industry writing for one of the highest circulation magazines in the sector. At Just Drinks he has cemented himself as one of the most insightful and thoughtful journalists writing about alcohol in the UK.
They led an in-depth discussion considering what they think has been significant so far in the year and what can be anticipated in the upcoming months. In response, our Advice and Training Manager Rebecca Oladipo looked at the likely ramifications of such trends in relation to the Code and advised producers on how to avoid these potential pitfalls.
The topics were wide ranging from CBD-infused products, hard seltzers, brand voice, use of influencers, the positioning of alcohol and the influence of soft drinks marketing. While we can’t squeeze every topic into this blog, we wanted to draw out our top three discussions.
Time and again when discussing how brands are positioning CBD products, hard seltzers and soft drink crossovers, we have seen that health claims have started to creep into marketing and this trend appears to have grown as a result of the pandemic. There have been a number of recent cases flagged by the Advertising Standards Authority on the way that hard seltzers have advertised themselves using qualifiers such as ‘only x calories’ or the use of ‘zero sugar’. The presentations in this seminar also highlighted that such claims can be compounded by the endorsement of certain celebrities who are perhaps better known for their work in mental or physical health and present some products in a stylised way to suggest implicit claims of wellbeing.
Rebecca highlighted that while clean living is certainly a trend, it is essential that brands do not create the impression that this then applies to the consumption of alcohol. The Portman Group Code of Practice on the Naming, Packaging and Promotion of Alcoholic Drinks includes Code rule 3.2(j) which states that products should not suggest that they have therapeutic qualities, can enhance mental or physical capabilities, or change mood or behaviour. The Code sits alongside the law and it’s important to remember that nutritional claims are covered by the retained European Regulation (EC) No 1924/2006 (Nutrition and Health Claims Regulation). This stipulates that health claims are not permissible for alcoholic drinks containing more than 1.2% abv.
In January of this year, the Independent Complaints Panel upheld a complaint against Colorado High which stated on the back label that it was ‘A sensory infusion of wellness-enhancing CBD and refreshingly complex gin …’ and ‘Colorado High is a spirit that supports your body’s natural balance and tastes great doing so’. The Panel was of the view that the packaging did convey a health benefit by stating that it was ‘wellness-enhancing’.
The Advisory Service would encourage all producers to focus on the taste and quality of a product in marketing as opposed to implied or explicit health claims which are likely to be problematic under the Code, and potentially, the law.
Tone of voice
New brands want to be distinctive and leave a strong impression. Some start-ups want to have a rebellious tone of voice and this has reach with certain demographics. However, if this mentality then follows through into marketing, and it is deliberately counter to responsible standards, then the reputation of the entire sector is potentially affected and all stand to lose. For 25 years our Code of Practice has been one of the ways the sector has demonstrated that it is responsible and ensures that it maintains high standards. Producers should remain mindful of this while still seeking to put out an assertive, loud, colourful presence.
Innovate or die
For much of the history of photography Kodak was the leading brand in the business by a very wide margin. However, as digital came along it failed to respond quickly enough and the brand collapsed. 20 years ago, many pubs really only had the big lagers on tap, and our speakers speculated that unless they pivot (and they are all looking at how to do so) they are going to lose further market against the crafts brewers which are innovating successfully in this space.
In the battle for bar and retail space companies are increasingly looking for new ideas. There is certainly cross fertilisation going on between soft drinks and alcohol sectors. With hard teas, coffees and lemonade in the mix it is important to remember the context of a drink. If there is alcohol in a product it must still be marketed as an alcoholic product with all of the markers and indicators ensuring consumers know what they are buying (Code rule 3.1).
This was a fantastic seminar and a very good discussion. Alcohol is an industry that has creativity at its very core and is constantly innovating. However, these new concepts can sometimes raise regulatory issues. An important element of the Portman Group’s work is to keep track of industry trends and provide advice and guidance to the industry to ensure that such growth and innovation is responsible. It brought us right up to date with the issues our Advisory Service is dealing with day in day out and highlights certain trends from the US that will need to be changed to work in the UK market.
If you are looking for help with your products and positioning before you launch contact our free Advisory Service on firstname.lastname@example.org.