How to make a complaint about alcohol marketing

If you’ve seen a piece of alcohol marketing which you think is irresponsible, you can use this guide to find the right body to contact about it, and give your complaint the best chance of success.

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‘Marketing’ means all of the things businesses do to promote their products – to get us interested in them. Most of us will notice advertisements on television, billboards, online or in print. But there’s lots more to marketing than that. Sponsorship of television programmes, packaging and social media are all part of the mix, and alcohol is marketed in all these ways.

Since alcohol is a product which can harm people’s health, especially young people, it’s important that it’s marketed responsibly.

Who should you contact?

That depends on what sort of marketing you’ve seen:

  • The Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) regulates alcohol marketing on broadcast media (TV and radio) and non-broadcast media (including newspapers, posters, websites, social media, cinema, emails, leaflets, billboards).
  • The Portman Group regulates alcohol packaging: the words and images on bottles, cans and boxes of drinks, as well as any promotional materials (such as special display stands) that drinks companies provide to shops.
  • Ofcom is a statutory regulator and is responsible for regulating the sponsorship of television programmes by the alcohol industry.

Use the table below to work out who to contact.

The Advertising Standards Authority

Ofcom

The Portman Group

A TV or radio ad

Sponsorship of a TV or radio programme

Something in a television or radio programme (not an advert).

Any other advert not on the TV or radio (websites, social media, newspapers, posters, billboards, cinema, email)

Alcohol packaging – the words and images on bottles, cans and boxes of drinks or display stands

Writing your complaint

In all cases, before you complain, you need think about why exactly you think a particular product or advertisement is problematic. For example, do you think it is encouraging people to drink too much, or maybe too likely to appeal to under-18s?

The Portman Group, the ASA and Ofcom all have their own sets of rules or ‘codes’ and they will only consider complaints that refer to those codes. So, you need to look at the right code and work out which rule you think has been broken, and then refer to that rule in your complaint:

How to make your complaint

  • You can make a complaint online to the Portman Group here.
  • You can make a complaint online to the Advertising Standards Authority here.
  • You can find out how to complain to Ofcom here.

Alcohol marketing regulation needs reform

As you can see, the regulation of the alcohol industry is quite complicated, and the complaints process can be tricky to navigate. This reflects a bigger problem. For drinks companies all aspects of marketing – packaging, sponsorships, adverts and everything else – are linked and support each other. But different regulators look at different parts of marketing, meaning that none of them are seeing the full picture.

In addition, one of the main regulators, the Portman Group, is funded by the eight biggest alcohol companies in the UK, and many people have questioned whether the alcohol industry should be regulating its own marketing like this.

For these reasons (and more), we and many others believe that alcohol marketing regulation needs reform. We need a joined-up system that is prepared for the challenges of marketing in a rapidly changing digital marketplace. That system must be entirely independent of the alcohol industry, and be transparent, evidence-based and accountable.

Find out more