Beer, wines and spirits advertisers are being urged to promote the virtues of moderation in their messages to British drinkers.

Paradoxically, this exhortation stems not from the government or consumer health bodies – but from the drinks industry-funded Portman Group, whose remit is to counter the rising tide of criticism of alcohol advertising.

The clarion call coincides with a Department of Health consultation on a ‘national alcohol harm reduction strategy’ which aims to reduce alcohol related problems such as violence in and outside pubs and hangover-induced absenteeism.

Portman chief executive Jean Coussins advises advertisers and their agencies: “There is massive scope to be creative about promoting responsibility messages in the style of [your] brands.” Drinks companies should strive to make moderation aspirational, says Coussins: “They have got to try and make sensible drinking sexy.”

The majority of Britons drink sensibly, she believes, with only a small minority responsible for serious problems. “People are fed up of their town and city centres being turned into no-go areas on Friday and Saturday nights.

“One of the most important things we will be saying in our submission to the government consultation is that they have got to put the same order of resources into public education about sensible drinking guidelines that have been put in over the years in drink-drive campaigns.”

As to tobacco-style health warnings, as suggested in some quarters, Coussins is dismissive: “It is difficult to know what you would put on a health warning. On tobacco it is very clear: smoking kills. The sensible drinking message is much longer and more complex.”

In its annual report published today (Tuesday), the Portman Group says it has received only twelve complaints to date this year, eight of which were upheld. However, there is little reason to believe many would bother to complain about alcohol advertising and marketing to an industry-funded body whose primary function is counter-propaganda.

Data sourced from: Financial Times; additional content by WARC staff