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The highs and lows of the battle over beer gardens

Nov 05. 2015
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By Sasithorn Ongdee
[email protected]

Another episode of the saliva war over alcoholic drinks, between a beer maker and the alcohol control agency, is brewing.
When Piti Bhirombhakdi, an executive of a leading beer company, recently hit out at Dr Samarn Futrakul, director of the Alcohol Control Committee Office, on his Facebook page, Piti slammed Samarn’s remarks that “beer garden” activities were likely breaking the alcohol control law on advertising as insane. 
Also, celebrities or singers who join the “beer garden” events might also be in breach of the law on advertising, according to Samarn. 
Piti argued on his Facebook page that beer gardens, which are held annually to celebrate the New Year, were legal. If the Office considers them illegal, they should provide more details. Stopping the beer gardens, which are held nationwide during festivals, would affect thousands of waiters and waitresses, he argued. 
Piti vowed to continue holding the “beer garden” events and hire both movie stars and singers to join the activities, while also challenging Samarn, saying it remains to be seen who’s going to leave and who’s going to stay. 
The beer maker’s argument got the thumbs up and was cheered by many who seemed to overlook the substance of the issue. 
What we are focusing on is “violation” of Article 32 of the Alcohol Control Act BE 2008 on advertising prohibition, which forbids several activities. It prohibits liquor companies from hiring public figures, including movie stars, singers and celebrities, for their product advertisements. 
Of course, there is a blurred line between a “place” for alcoholic drinks and a “marketing event”. What a beer garden is needs to be defined. 
From a marketing perspective, one cannot deny that a “beer garden” event, with mini concert, and promotion and marketing activities is a kind of the below-the-line advertising, focusing on specific groups of target consumers. It is different from above-the-line advertising where mass media, including conventional media like television, radio, and print as well as Internet, is used to promote brands and reach out to the consumers. 
Liquor companies know that by law, they are not allowed to advertise their products through any media except between 11pm and 5am, but only words not related to the products are allowed. The logos and labels of the products are not allowed to be shown. 
So, a “beer garden” should be considered a place only for selling and drinking alcoholic beverages if there are no signages of alcohol products, their logos or labels around the event and celebrities are not promoting and advertising the products or inducing other people to try the products. 
Thai society is open to every kind of festival happening all year round and they normally involve consumption of alcoholic beverages. Every year, we see a burgeoning number of beer gardens across the country during the New Year, as if it is a beer festival. 
Perhaps, we cannot distinguish one from the other. 
Beer gardens are not banned by law, but they are banned from being used as “media” to advertise liquor products to boost sales. 
What if celebrities, who were hired to join the beer garden event, posed with the signage of the beer product? Would this be called a kind of advertising? What if the celebrities took pictures of themselves posing with the beer products and then posted those pictures on their social media, could it be called advertising? 
Would this action be similar to the recent case in which more than 30 celebrities were accused of violating the alcohol control act when they posted photos of themselves with a beer product on their social media?
The answers are too obvious to the questions on why there is concern about alcoholic drinks and why celebrities are more strictly prohibited than general people. 
How about the liquor companies taking “real” social responsibility? 
It should be interesting to see who is going to stay and who’s going to leave.

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