Can you advertise alcohol in New Zealand?

Print Friendly, PDF & Email

It’s 5’o’clock somewhere – the New Alcohol Advertising rules are here

This article is about a topic dear to my heart – beer. Well, more specifically, how beer (and other alcoholic drinks) are allowed to be advertised to the public. In recent years we have seen an explosion of micro-breweries, small distilleries and vineyards across the country, many advertising online, on social media and selling direct to the consumer. It’s no longer just the two liquor giants competing to see who can brew the most flavourless beer.

The rules are set in a code published and enforced by the Advertising Standards Authority. The new code was released on 1 July 2021. It does not just apply to the big breweries. Importers, distributors, wholesalers, sports clubs, liquor stores, bars and clubs all have to follow these rules. Essentially, if your business involves selling alcohol, the rules apply to you.

So what is an alcohol advertisement?

When people think of alcohol advertising they generally recall TV commercials where farmers consider leaving their fiancé based on whether they drink Speights.  However the code is much broader than that.  Any message promoting alcohol will be caught.  That will include social media advertising, posters, in-store messaging right down to the name of the product itself, design and even the colour of the label.  If you had plans to sell a beer called “Drunk Guy IPA”, with the ABV% in giant numbers on the front of the can, think again.

What are the obligations and why are they important?

The new code is made up of three broad principles – Social Responsibility, Truthful Presentation, and special rules for Alcohol Sponsorships.  Each of those principles come with various rules and guidelines which must be followed.  Knowing about the harm alcohol causes society when abused, the rules are mostly just common-sense.  Amongst other things, the rules target ads which promote the strength or effect of the alcohol content, encourage binge drinking or alcohol dependence, or which appeal to kids.

The code itself is too long to reproduce in full here. However the risks of a breach are real. Certain individuals do regularly complain about alcohol advertising. They range from genuinely concerned members of the public to organisations which oppose alcohol on principle. The key is to avoid breaching the codes in the first place.

If you are found to breach the codes, the Advertising Standards Authority makes decisions public which is bad PR for your business. A further risk is that the Alcohol Advertising and Promotion Code contains a number of the same principles considered in the alcohol licensing process. A breach (or breaches) of the ASA’s rules could eventually put the business itself in jeopardy.

How can we help?

Advertising law is a niche area. When you are selling alcohol we recommend taking careful advice about the Code first, rather than dealing with a complaint to the ASA later.  However, if you have received an ASA complaint there are still things you can do to minimise the impact.

If you would like legal advice when preparing an advertisement, or dealing with a complaint (alcohol or otherwise), please give me a call or contact your usual trusted WRMK advisor.

Our thanks to Simon Davies-Colley for writing this article.