We’ve raged about the Portman Group for so long that we can no longer even justify mentioning every example of their madness. This self-appointed organisation ‘oversees’ alcohol advertising and marketing, and is in fact a craven attempt by the big brewers who back it – and, indeed, formed it – to kowtow to the prohibitionists and the furiously right-on, none of whom would consume their products anyway. Like the equally self-appointed Advertising Standards Authority, they pompously adjudicate over matters that are beyond their remit and fall into what might at best be called ‘objective opinion’ (and often seems to ascribe a witchcraft-like power to images), and now seek to impose politically correct ideas onto the way products are promoted. In the case of the Portman Group, this includes the spurious idea that the illustration on the front of a beer can will somehow encourage the drinker to consume the beer in an ‘unhealthy’ way. This is, frankly, mental unbalanced thinking.
The big brands who back The Portman Group – Carlsberg, Guinness, InBev etc – never fall foul of the rules. It’s those upstart small and independent brewers who are censured. And make no mistake – a ticking off from the Portman Group can have consequences, as they pompously issue a Retailer Alert Bulletin telling stockists who have also signed up to their made-up rules to no longer stock and offending product.
The latest victims are the US craft beer chaps at Flying Dog Brewery, who have had their rather groovy Easy IPA condemned on the basis of a single complaint. Yes, one person with nothing better to do and a chip on their shoulder spotted the can, with its striking Ralph Steadman artwork, and decided that the drink. could be mistaken for a soft drink. You know, despite being sold in beer aisles and kept in the fridges of bars. Making your beer look like a soft drink has been a major no-no for the beer censors since the moral panic around Hooch and other alcopops back in the 1990s. Apparently, an attractive package will immediately lead to children shelling out the near three quid a can this costs to feckless off-licence staff, drinking it down rather than spitting it out once it becomes apparent that it tastes nothing like Tango, and becoming immediate alcoholics. It’s the thinking of lunatics, but it’s also the thinking that our moral guardians live by. Shouting “think of the children” is a long-proven way of controlling what adults can do.
To their credit, the Portman Group rejected this complaint. But they then went on the reject the packaging, because Steadman’s blurry-eyed and red-nosed dog “could be seen to encourage drunkenness.” This is also a forbidden idea. In the Portman Group’s weird universe, no one ever chooses to get drunk. No one who goes to a pub and sees an array of bland, anonymous beer clips or plainly packaged bottles will become even slightly tipsy. They will all have their government-mandated safe amount of beer and then bid a fond and sober farewell to their associates. However, when confronted with a cartoon of a sozzled dog, they will immediately throw caution to the wind, consuming so much that they will wake up in hospital the next day after going on a drunken rampage the night before. Yes, that’s clearly how it works.
Sensibly, Flying Dog and their UK distributor James Clay have told the Portman Group to go fuck themselves. It’s possible – even probable – that certain retailers might crumble and refuse to stock the beer, but it will remain available from those with the balls to stand up and understand that this grotty organisation is far from the friend of the brewer, the retailer or the drinker, but rather is a bullying consortium made up of the big boys who will do whatever they can to stop smaller better brewers from chipping away at their profits. We recommend that everyone – even you non-drinkers – goes out this weekend and buys a can or bottle of Easy IPA, just to raise the middle finger to the people who want to rob you of the freedom to do so.
Thanks to Keri O’Shea for bringing this to our attention.