In the latest revision of the Portman Group's code of practice, advertisers of alcohol brands will not be able to imply that their products are a good way to relax.
This, I suggest, is like pretending that holidays are not a good way to relax, or that cars are not a good way to travel around. The truth, as we all know, is that alcohol is a good way to relax. But it's a truth deemed to be far too dangerous to put before the general public. The reason being that the State, meaning our politicians and civil service, considers the general public to be, fundamentally, stupid. Yes, ladies and gentlemen, we are officially too dim to cope with the truth.
The Portman Group, however, is not the State. It is funded by the leading alcohol producers, and was set up back in 1989. It took on the role of encouraging responsible marketing in 1996, devising a code of practice in the wake of the furore around 'alcopops'. It also established the drinkaware.co.uk website which, according to Google Trends, seems to be mainly sought out by people trying to fathom what on earth 'A Unit' actually means.
The hope of the drinks industry is that self regulation will fend off even more restrictive State legislation.
As with any form of regulation, you need to draw a line somewhere. Marketing drinks to teenagers and young adults is a problem the industry absolutely should be (and is) addressing. But the problem with lines is they are easy to step over - which is when we start assuming that people cannot be told certain truths because they are too stupid to make their own decisions. Here we have an industry busy second guessing the Nanny State, (especially in Scotland, fast becoming the most Nannyish State of all).
The new code's restrictions will also seemingly apply to user-generated content posted on producer sites. Aged relatives keen to post entries into a brand's forum, reporting how they enjoyed a relaxing glass of sherry during Strictly Come Dancing, would find these posts censored next year. This would definitely be news too dangerous to let out. It would encourage us all to want to relax too much, and over indulge.
But it's not just drinking that regulators are concerned about. They are also concerned about eating, with the finger of blame being pointed at sectors like confectionery.
I wonder if confectionery is doomed to follow the same path of self regulation as alcohol. Will we see a Chocaware website, with information on how many calories there are in 'A Unit' of Dairy Milk? Perhaps it will start with warnings that eating too much fudge will almost certainly make you obese. Ads showing men giving pretty girls boxes of chocolates would be banned for implying a link between chocolate and sexual success. Then, after a year or two, it might progress to banning advertisers from claiming that chocolate is an aid to relaxation, even though it is.
Following the Portman Group's logic, we might then find that we can't watch Kit Kat advertising any more. The idea of "Have a Break" would have been banned because it implies that chocolate-covered wafer fingers might help you relax. News too dangerous to be let out? I think not.
The idea that consenting adults should be allowed to make their own decisions is under threat. Can I suggest that we all think twice before second guessing the nanny state, or worse, letting it dictate every little aspect of our lives 'in our own interests'? Is that the truth that's really too dangerous to let out?
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