Overall, the Alcohol Sponsorship Guidelines for Scotland were viewed very positively by industry representatives, independent stakeholders and rights-holders. Additionally, the Guidelines, in their current form, are seen as being necessary, worthwhile and effective. The majority of the research participants considered the Guidelines to be clear, concise and easy to comply with.
Sponsorship Activity in Scotland
A mapping exercise was undertaken to establish the range of sponsorship activities undertaken by the alcohol industry in Scotland since the Alcohol Sponsorship Guidelines for Scotland came into effect in 2009. A pro-forma was sent to representatives at 24 companies. Twenty-one companies completed and returned it. Three-quarters of these companies indicated that they undertake sponsorship activity.
A total of 43 sponsorship activities were reported in the pro-forma returns. Almost half of the activities related to sports events, clubs, or teams while a third related to music events or other cultural activities, including book, comedy and film festivals. Half of all the sponsorship activity was undertaken by the whisky sector and around a third accounted for by the beer and cider sector. In keeping with the principles of the Guidelines, all sponsored activities and events were targeted at audiences aged 18 and over. One third were targeted at audiences aged 25 and over and one third were not targeted at any specific age group in particular. None of the sponsored events or activities were aimed specifically at females, with around a third targeted at males and the remainder at both males and females.
Knowledge and awareness of the Guidelines
Self-reported knowledge of the Guidelines was generally high among industry representatives. Scottish Government Alcohol Industry Partnership (SGAIP) members, in particular, tended to report knowing a 'great deal' about them, with non-SGAIP members being more likely to report knowing 'a fair amount'. Knowledge was lower among rights-holders, who tended to say that they could not actually remember seeing the Guidelines document, and were generally unaware of the detail contained within it. However, there was a sense in which rights-holders felt they did not require an in-depth knowledge of the document as their industry partners should, and do, inform them of their obligations in this regard.
While the research was focused primarily on SGAIP member organisations, which tend to be larger national alcohol companies, there was a perception that smaller alcohol companies will have a lower than average awareness of the Guidelines, and thus, may be less likely to comply with them.
Interpretation and implementation of the Guidelines
The review uncovered no major issues with regard to the interpretation of the Guidelines, and very few barriers to compliance were identified. However, industry representatives felt that compliance might be an issue among some smaller alcohol companies and that rights-holders could take on more responsibility for implementation.
Additionally, there were a number of suggestions for enhancing specific principles covered in the Guidelines, the most common of which were:
- clarifying what is meant by a recognisable commitment to community or diversionary activities
- providing more of a steer on what constitutes good practice in respect of the collection of demographic data for sponsored events or activities
- addressing the question of whether or not it is appropriate for children's replica clothing to feature branding for non-alcoholic versions of sponsors' products - among the research participants there was a consensus that this is not in the spirit of the Guidelines
- addressing the growth of online and digital communications in guidelines relating to the promotion of responsible drinking messages
- updating the guidelines on sampling to reflect the move to Challenge 25.
A number of recommendations flow from the research regarding the content of the Sponsorship Guidelines. Specifically:
- SGAIP should consider adding to the Guidelines some case studies to illustrate what is meant by a 'recognisable commitment' to activities that promote diversionary and community activities
- it would be prudent to recommend that companies should avoid sponsoring teams that could potentially comprise a majority of under 18s. In respect of the sponsorship of individuals, SGAIP should be mindful of the view that an under 25 threshold should apply as per the Portman Group and Committee of Advertising Practice (CAP) guidelines, and consider whether this is an area it might review in the future
- there is a need to review in more detail the approaches alcohol companies are taking to collecting demographic data, with a view to identifying good practice that could be included in the Guidelines
- to address the issues of branding for non-alcoholic versions of sponsors' products appearing on replica shirts, the wording of the relevant principle could be adapted as follows: 'alcohol branding or branding for non-alcoholic versions of alcoholic drinks must not appear on replica sports shirts…'
- the guidelines relating to sampling should be updated to reflect the move from Challenge 21 to Challenge 25
- SGAIP should consider addressing in the Guidelines the growth of online and digital communications. As a minimum, it would be helpful to include a reference to the Portman Group's digital marketing code and recommend that companies follow this.
In addition to these recommendations relating specifically to the Guidelines document, the findings of the review point towards actions that SGAIP might take to help ensure compliance with the Guidelines in the future:
- raising awareness of the Guidelines among all those to whom they are applicable - across all of the participant groups, it was felt that efforts need to be made to ensure that all alcohol companies (particularly smaller companies that are not part of the SGAIP) and rights-holders are fully aware of the Guidelines. There were various suggestions for raising awareness; the most common of which was using relevant existing events, forums or and networks as "conduits for getting the information out there"
- developing a mechanism for identifying and addressing non-compliance - while some participants favoured the continuation of a self-regulatory approach, other participants felt that any monitoring should be conducted by an independent body, suggesting that this would be more credible than self-regulation and consequently may "pre-empt" any potential tightening of the Guidelines
- developing an online portal where the Guidelines and related documentation can be easily accessed - participants felt that an online portal would facilitate cross-referencing of the relevant legislation and codes, and serve as a vehicle for the sharing of ideas, experiences and best practice
- bringing greater cross-national consistency in sponsorship guidelines across the UK and, indeed, between the UK and Europe - while it was recognised that consistency is complicated by the fact that legislation and policy priorities in respect of alcohol differ in Scotland and the rest of the UK, there was a view, and indeed an aspiration, that the Portman code will be loosely based around the Scottish Guidelines but include "caveats" referencing relevant variation in legislation and practice across the UK.
Email: Iain MacAllister