Alcohol brands’ slip around strict marketing regulations

In certain markets in Asia, governments have been steadily clamping down on alcohol marketing.

The latest one to implement such rules is Vietnam. Late last year, Vietnam established strict procedures on alcohol. Under the new rules, before distributing alcoholic beverages, a producer must now submit to authorities, along with the application for a production license, documents concerning trademarks and conformity with technical and food safety standards. Organisations and individuals engaged in small-scale liquor production in a liquor trading village will be exempt from the licence requirement.

Earlier this year, a draft bill was submitted to the Indonesian Parliament calling for a ban on alcohol. In some cities like Bali and Jakarta, where the economy relies heavily on tourism, this has raised fears of a loss of business in nightclubs, hotels, beach bars, and restaurants for outlet owners.

The proposed bill suggests that those who produce alcoholic drinks would be subject to penalties of up to 10 years imprisonment and 10 billion rupiah (US$1.05 million) in fines. There would also be US$520,000 in fines and five years in prison for those who distribute them and two years imprisonment and a US$20,800 fine for those who consume alcohol.

In May, Turkey also passed a legislation to ban all advertising of alcohol and tighten restrictions on sales in the country.

The legislation bans the sale of alcoholic drinks between 10pm and 6am. It also prohibits alcohol sales anywhere close to mosques and educational centers.

The law bars drink companies from promoting their brands and forces the blurring of images of alcoholic drinks on television as well.

Regulations like these have made it extremely difficult for alcohol brands to market their products. In what alcohol marketers call a semi-dark market, promotion of alcohol-related activities/advertising on above the line channels is prohibited. But it appears marketers are finding their way around it.


Requesting not to be named, one marketer from a key multinational brand John Tan* (not his real name)  told Marketing Events that in Vietnam, his brand is still active in events despite the local authorities not allowing any form of advertising for alcohol events.

He shared an event that took place recently in Vietnam where an underground party was “publicised” only through word of mouth. No form of branding was allowed and all events had to be kept quiet.

Despite this, the event pulled in several hundreds, and to prevent the brand from being exposed, the brand name was exempt from the event so as to be inconspicuous. “We had to be low key and tactical about it,” he said. Another alcohol brand marketer said that only a logo of his brand was displayed, while another said that only the initials of the brand were used instead of the full brand name being displayed at the event. All declined to be named.

Malaysia and Indonesia

For other markets with similar regulations such as Malaysia and Indonesia where Tan’s brand holds events in, authorities are known to raid alcohol stalls, including Aceh in Indonesia. In Malaysia, where the population is a Muslim-majority, there are heavy restrictions on alcohol advertising. Alcohol advertising is not allowed over the broadcast media and on billboards, except in the state of Sabah in East Malaysia. Alcohol advertising is permitted in cinemas, on video cassettes and the print media. Sponsorship activities are allowed, according to the Institute of Alcohol Studies (IAS).

A regional marketer from another alcohol brand, Melissa Lim* (not her real name) also told Marketing Events about similar issues in Malaysia.

She said that in Malaysia, while TVCs are not allowed for alcohol marketing, alcohol marketers are allowed to do print and below the line (BTL) activities.

However, these alcohol brands are not allowed to sponsor an international act in Malaysia. She said that for alcohol marketing, warning messages have to be published prominently and sometimes brands have to do pseudo branding, where the brand has to advertise its name as a non-alcoholic product. For example, Heineken beer might have to be advertised as Heineken soda.

No issues

However, other marketers say these rules are of little issue to them.

According to Pearl Lai, head of group communications & marketing activation for Carlsberg Brewery Malaysia Berhad, the brand has not experienced any problems with the local authorities when it comes to beer advertising and promotion. Lai said that the brand adheres closely to the strict guidelines and the rules that the local authorities have set for alcohol licensing. In addition, the brand also self-regulates when it comes to market policies for beer advertising and promotions and only advertises on the channels that it is allowed to.

Jade Koh, customer marketing manager & vintrepreneur – SEA (Thailand, Malaysia, Vietnam, Indonesia, Philippines, Indochina, South Asia & Pacific Islands) for Australia-based wine-maker Treasury Wine Estates also said that it has not encountered any problems with its events in Vietnam, Indonesia and Malaysia. In addition, the Australian-based wine making brand relies extensively on local distributors when it comes to alcohol marketing in smaller cities.

Jed Mok, general manager, Pico Art International said that typically for B2B or closed door events, there are usually no issues with alcohol marketing. In Indonesia and Malaysia, when the target audience is the masses, there could be challenges in alcohol marketing.

Eam Sumati, experiential director, Iris Singapore said that alcohol events that marketers conduct have to be sensitive to the culture of that country.

"Although it varies with markets, it is best to work with local market to get insights on navigating such sensitive issues respectively.” He said that compromising with local authorities and getting local insights from local markets is important as well.