Drinks giants team up to head off ad regulation

Eight of Europe's biggest alcohol firms have united to launch new rules for their own advertising in an effort to head off tighter regulation.

Carlsberg, Heineken and Diageo are among the booze giants that have agreed the "Responsible Marketing Pact", which is being launched today and will cover all European Union countries.

A key measure is a commitment not to target children, particularly on social media. The eight alcohol companies said that they will only buy advertising in media "where at least 70 per cent of the audience is reasonably expected to be above legal purchase age", and the ads themselves must not be "attractive" to kids.

The drinks brands also vowed to prevent children from "inadvertently seeing alcohol beverage marketing" on websites such as Facebook by introducing "effective age controls" on ads and user-generated content on official fan pages.

AB InBev, Bacardi, Brown-Forman, Pernod Ricard and SABMiller are the other firms to have signed up to the pact, which has been produced with trade body the World Federation of Advertisers (WFA) and the European Commission's European Alcohol and Health Forum (EHAF). The alcohol firms claim the self-regulatory pact is "rigorous", and have hired management consultants Accenture to carry out independent monitoring.

The Advertising Standards Authority is expected to help to enforce the pact in Britain, with"public naming and shaming" for repeat offences.

Andrew Morgan, president of Diageo Europe, said: "The pact represents a major milestone in responsible marketing."

Charities such as Alcohol Concern have repeatedly complained that the drinks industry's marketing messages have been reaching young people "well before they are legally able to buy alcohol". A group of leading doctors warned recently in the medical journal The Lancet that there could be 210,000 avoidable deaths from drinking in the next two decades in Britain.

EHAF will monitor the new ad rules and produce a provisional report for Brussels by June 2013.