Scotland Proposes Ban on Alcohol Branding, Upsetting Local Distillers
The Scottish government issued a report on alcohol marketing, and weighed legislation that could ban any branding in an effort to reduce the "attractiveness" of alcohol, especially to young people, similarly to how some countries have removed branding from tobacco products.
The study showed that more than half of surveyed people aged 11-19 saw at least one piece of alcohol marketing every day over a month-long period.
"Alcohol marketing can influence children and young people to start drinking alcohol or drink more alcohol if they are already drinking," the study says. "The more children and young people see alcohol advertising, the more likely they are to start drinking alcohol."
What this means for alcohol brands is that, like tobacco products, they would not be able to advertise their product on signage or other promotional products.
The Scottish government argued that young people who own branded items like T-shirts or caps are twice as likely to drink alcohol as those who don't, thus floating the idea of banning them outright in Scotland.
"Every single brewer in this country has merchandise that boasts their product," Scott Begbie wrote for the Press and Journal. "It’s a vital revenue stream, and a way to promote their business."
Anyone in the promotional products industry knows that to be true. Here in the U.S., breweries rely on products like T-shirts, can coolers, stickers – basically anything they can put a logo on – as a revenue stream beyond the actual drink. And people love collecting products from different brewers or distilleries to show off their tastes and travels.
In Scotland specifically, whiskey distillers are outraged at the prospect of the ban, especially part of the report that said that without branding all alcoholic beverages would be the same on the surface level. Obviously, Scottish whiskey distillers are exceptionally proud of their world-renowned product. And taking away that recognition could not only damage business.
"It would be so damaging to tourism in Scotland," Blair Bowman, a whiskey consultant and broker in Scotland, told the BBC. "It just wouldn't make any sense. The implications are pretty enormous and I don't think they've been fully thought through in terms of the mechanics of what that would mean."
No more branded glencairn glasses. No more branded woolly hats. No more branded *anything* at distillery visitors centres.
In 2018, there were 2m visitors whisky distilleries in Scotland who spent over £68.3m.
— Blair Bowman 🥃 (@mrblairbowman) January 11, 2023
He added that the unique distilleries draw in tourists to places they otherwise might not visit. Once they're there, they usually buy branded products, which helps keep small businesses afloat.
"A lot of gin and whisky distilleries and breweries sell these branded glasses and more as souvenirs, and if they were suddenly told they couldn't sell them anymore, it would be very difficult and very surreal," Bowman added.
The proposed legislation would also prohibit alcohol branding at sporting events. In England, for example, the Premier League already has a ban on alcoholic beverages serving as shirt sponsors. But, this would limit sponsorship in sports leagues in Scotland, too, and would mean that signage and other game-day advertising would go away.
"It just doesn't make sense to target everybody for something that is such an important product to our economy," Bowman said.
The goal of the Scottish government, however, is to remove the automatic association of alcohol and good times that some young people make through branding. Alcohol advertisements omit the downsides to drinking, such as long-term health issues and the possibility of injury.
"It is important to reduce alcohol advertising so less children and young people start drinking alcohol, or less alcohol," the Scottish government's study said.
The other goal is to make events like sports matches more appealing to everyone. The government study contends that the abundance of alcohol branding could make some sports fans who are trying to avoid alcohol avoid sports games all together. It would also limit the use of sports heroes in ads, which the government says glamorizes drinking.
"We think there should be a rule against alcohol brands being shown on sports clothing, players or managers featured in adverts," the study says. "This would reduce the attractiveness of alcohol."
To say nothing of sporting events, the Scottish government proposed removing advertising in public places in Scotland, meaning signage on bus stops and along roadways, as well as in shop windows or even in high-traffic areas of grocery stores.
In the U.S., that isn't an issue yet. But, similarly again to how the tobacco industry has to limit its branding, there are currently arguments being made about how newly-legalized cannabis can be marketed. And, at least in Canada, the way health authorities view alcohol is still changing. So, as these guidelines evolve, so too could branding.