Biggest year on record for ABAC

ABAC reported a record workload in 2021 in its annual report as consumer consumption habits changed fundamentally during COVID.

The alcohol advertising organisation said it had experienced an “extremely busy year” with record levels of activity for the adjudication panel and the pre-vetting service – finalising the busiest year in determinations since the scheme’s inception in 1998.

Throughout the year there were 288 complaints, resulting in 153 determinations by the ABAC panel which “serve as important guidance as to how the Code should be interpreted and used to produce responsible marketing,” according to ABAC Management Committee chair Harry Jenkins.

80 of those determinations were upheld. 73 per cent of the determinations related to digital marketing. Packaging determinations – which have disproportionately impacted the craft beer industry – declined slightly, from 15 per cent in 2020 to 14 per cent of all determinations last year.

48 per cent of the determinations focused on the aspect of the code which prevents alcohol advertising from having a strong or evident appeal to minors, and themost-complained about advertisement was for Vodka Cruiser Spritz, which attracted six individual complaints.

However, one of the most positive aspects of the year was the 3336 requests for pre-vetting, said Jenkins – an increase of a third on the previous year.

27 per cent of pre-vetting applications were from direct signatories, 15 per cent from the Brewers Association whose members include Coopers, Kirin-owned Lion and Asahi Beverages-owned Carlton & United Breweries, and 18 per cent from non-signatories. The rest were split between Spirits & Cocktails Association members (34 per cent) and Australian Grape & Wine members (6 per cent).

“Rejections numbered 501, about 15 per cent of requests. This is important pro-active work, and our pre-vetters deserve congratulations on these impressive results,” Jenkins said.

Key initiatives in 2021 included growing education and awareness, and ABAC held its annual free industry training compliance webinar and developed a series of compliance training videos which were undertaken by 436 company and agency staff.

The industry-funded organisation has also negotiated Memoranda of Understanding with Liquor Licensing authorities in Victoria and South Australia to improve communication and cross-referral of issues.

This may mean more quantifiable repercussions for alcohol producers in these regions which have breached the ABAC Code.When the Victorian Commission for Gambling and Liquor Regulation signed the MOU last year it led to the banning of Howler Brewing Company’s limited edition Choc Milk Stout.

Following a survey commissioned last year the organisation found that the Code’s content standards “appear to reflect community expectations for alcohol marketing and in some cases, appear to be more conservative.”

A majority of those surveyed by JWS Research – 60 per cent – said that they had no concerns with alcohol advertising, labelling or packaging over the past 12 months.

ABAC acknowledged that alcohol marketing had been forced to adapt in 2021 in response to the changing ways alcohol could be sold during COVID. This, in turn, drove a surge in demand for ABAC’s services, it said.

“Alongside normal activity, in 2021 the industry also had to deal with the closure of licensed premises, a shift toward at-home consumption, new delivery methods and takeaway products,” Harry Jenkins said.

“The associated marketing of all of these new measures was subject to the established regulatory framework.

“The Chief Adjudicator, Professor Michael Lavarch, and his colleagues are to be commended for dealing with their record workload in an efficient and timely manner, and the clarity and consistency of their determinations.

“The majority of ABAC complaints and breaches related to digital social media posts, with the lack of age restriction on certain social media posts generating particular concern,” Jenkins said.

During the year, ABAC welcomed the Australian Distillers Association and Coca Cola South Pacific as members. It has been suggested in previous years that the Independent Brewers Association would also join as a signatory, but this has yet to eventuate.

The organisation also highlighted that 2022 would mark an important milestone, with a review of the ABAC Code imminent. Stakeholders, including the brewing industry, will be sought for consultation.

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