Unease over new booze rules

Industry chiefs fear new Ofcom regulations will be changed again after public-consultation period.

Uncertainty continues to surround the advertising of alcohol in Britain despite Ofcom moves to curb what it believes to have been persistent flouting of the rules.

As the Government puts pressure on Ofcom to help reduce Britain's binge-drinking habit, ad industry chiefs fear that new regulations published by the watchdog this week will be subject to further change after a public-consultation period.

Ofcom's chief executive, Stephen Carter, acknowledged that the consultation, which is to be undertaken by the newly created Broadcast Committee of Advertising Practice, would prolong the period of uncertainty.

But he insisted that it had been necessary to issue amended rules as quickly as possible after the transfer of regulatory power to the Advertising Standards Authority, even before a public consultation had taken place.

"There have been a lot of alcohol ads on screen that don't even conform to the current code," Carter said. "We don't want a brutal regulatory regime but there is a requirement for the alcohol industry to get its house in order."

Although the new rules will not apply until October next year, so as not to affect the production of commercials currently in the pipeline, agencies are worried that further changes could yet be made to the rules.

"Public consultation is bound to take a while," Marina Palomba, the IPA's legal affairs director, said. "And the more consultation there is, the more likelihood there is of further changes to the rules."

However, the industry is relieved Ofcom has not banned the use of animation or celebrities in alcohol ads. That would have killed off campaigns such as TBWA\London's work for John Smith's starring Peter Kay.

Industry research had found Ofcom's original tough stance could have proscribed 80 per cent of alcohol ads.

ISBA described the new rules as "tough but workable". Don Goulding, the managing director of Diageo, whose brands include Guinness, Baileys, Smirnoff and Gordons, called the code "firm but fair". The Advertising Association's director-general, Andrew Brown, said: "The rules though rigorous, are now workable and clear."

- Perspective, p21

OFCOM'S WISHLIST ...

- TV ads for alcoholic drinks must not reflect youth culture or be designed to appeal to people under 18.

- Ads must not show, imply or refer to daring, toughness, aggression or irresponsible, anti-social or unruly behaviour.

- Ads must not link alcohol with sex or imply that it can enhance attractiveness or sexual success.

- Alcoholic drinks must be handled and served responsibly in TV ads.