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Published:  23 July, 2008

By Jack Hibberd

Brand owners will have to radically rethink their TV advertising campaigns if proposed changes to watchdog guidelines - which include outlawing the portrayal of people partying and boisterous behaviour' - come into force later this year. Ofcom - the body which took over the regulation of TV content from the Independent Television Commission in November 2003 - proposed significant toughening of the current rules' in several areas, in a consultation document published on Monday. Ofcom said that it intends the rules to be in place by November 2004. One prominent industry figure told Harpers that if the proposed laws come into force as suggested, around half the alcohol adverts currently on TV could be deemed in breach'. It also appears that almost every current RTD advert would fail to pass the new regulations. The Government's Alcohol Harm Reduction Strategy, published in March, recommended that Ofcom should oversee a review of the rules as it was felt that the industry was following the letter, but not the spirit of the current code'. Tightening the rules on sexual content, youth appeal, anti-social behaviour and irresponsible serving of alcohol in adverts is the main focus of the changes. Ofcom said in the consultation document that although there have been long-standing rules in all these areas, the wording has not proved effective' in the past. Proposed changes include: Tightening the rule on social success so that adverts must not suggest that alcohol can contribute to social success, acceptance or confidence'. In the past, the rule said that adverts must not imply that alcohol was essential' to social success; adverts must not suggest that the success of a social occasion depends on alcohol. (Ofcom said that this does not prevent showing calm, mature socialising' but that boisterous behaviour' would not be allowed, nor the suggestion that a social event improves in the presence of alcohol). the rules on showing bravado, toughness or anti-social behaviour have been tightened to prevent adverts suggesting that drinking alcohol is a sign of maturity, masculinity or femininity'. The loophole in the law that meant adverts could show these traits if their depiction was not preceded by the consumption of alcohol has also been closed; the rules regarding sexual success have been tightened to prevent adverts showing alcohol in a context of sexual suggestiveness, flirtation or other sexual interaction'. In the past, the advert has had to directly link sexual success and consumption to fall foul of the rules; a new rule would be added to prevent the depiction of alcoholic drinks being handled and served in an irresponsible way; the rules on preventing alcohol adverts appealing to young people would be tightened to include any advertising which is likely to have a strong' appeal to them, rather than a particular' appeal to them. This would mean all alcohol in adverts would have to be presented as an adult pleasure'. Adverts should avoid featuring sport or situations typically associated with teenagers such as practical jokes, slapstick, or outwitting authority.' Eric Appleby, chief executive of pressure group Alcohol Concern welcomed the proposed regulations, and said that the alcohol industry had got what it deserves. For years and years, it has been pushing at the old code and finding ways around the exact wording. Ofcom had to come up with a very tight and strict code or the same thing would happen again.' Quentin Rappoport, director of the WSA, also gave the report a cautious welcome. The code did need tightening up, particularly with regard to sexual success, but I would express concern if legitimate advertising was curtailed,' he said. Visit to download the report. The consultation period lasts until 24 September.