When a poster in a Joseph Holt pub with the headline “Some things are better Extra Cold”, alongside a picture of a woman in a revealing tight top, hit the headlines, the brewery was quick to point out that this was a campaign from over 10 years previously. The poster being displayed was an isolated incident and no longer reflected the approach the brewer takes to marketing its beer.

Whilst the world may have largely moved on when it comes to promotions that are sexist and cause offence to women, there are still examples to be seen even now. An Irish brewery came under fire late last year for a tag line: “Dublin Blonde goes down easy” with pictures of girls on their beer cans.

This is an issue that the Portman Group has picked up in a recent review and believes should be addressed across the industry.

The Portman Group Code of Conduct

The Portman Group regulates the promotion and packaging of alcoholic drinks sold or marketed in the UK. Their Code of Conduct is the cornerstone of self-regulation and is recognised as such by the Government who continue to make it clear that it will legislate if the industry does not self-regulate successfully.  Signing up to the Code, and compliance with it, are voluntary.

The Portman Group wants to ensure that the Code remains relevant and that it evolves to cover new issues and challenges. It is therefore consulting on changes – which is likely to include a specific provision to prohibit sexist marketing.

Proposed changes to the Code

The Portman Code aims to support creative marketing whilst at the same time protecting the public. Current revisions it is consulting on cover:

Sexist Marketing

The consultation paper proposes to introduce a rule relating to offence. It accepts that such a rule must strike the right balance between public protection from serious and widespread offence whilst also acknowledging that a certain level of offence is likely to be acceptable. It accepts that what one, or even several, individuals find seriously offensive will not generate the same strength of feeling in others. It therefore proposes the following addition to the Code:

A drink, its packaging and any promotional material or activity should not cause serious or widespread offence. Particular care must be taken to avoid causing offence on the grounds of race, religion, gender, sexual orientation, disability or age.

Immoderate Consumption

The Code currently states that “A drink, its packaging and any promotional material or activity should not in any direct or indirect way encourage illegal, irresponsible or immoderate consumption, such as drink-driving, binge-drinking or drunkenness.”

The Group is considering introducing a definition of “immoderate consumption” which it would be able to use when determining whether for example, single-serve drinks might contain too many units of alcohol and whether drinks promotions are encouraging immoderate consumption.

Inappropriate marketing and protection of vulnerable individuals

Other proposals are to prohibit packaging or promotions with any association with illegal behaviour and to amend the Code to protect those that are socially or mentally vulnerable.

Further Information

The Consultation will remain open until 6th July 2018 and we will keep you up to date on any subsequent changes to the Portman Code.

The Portman Code can be found HERE

The Consultation document can be found HERE


The content of this page is a summary of the law in force at the present time and is not exhaustive, nor does it contain definitive advice. Specialist legal advice should be sought in relation to any queries that may arise.