A Sobering Future for Liquor Makers in Turkey

Erdoğan’s alcohol restrictions put a huge market at risk | A new law banning ads “is more about secular vs. religious”

Kristen Schweizer and Selcan Hacaoglu

The latest ad for Turkey’s Efes beer features an unmarked brown bottle and this cryptic message: “Even if we don’t see each other, we’ll know.” The slogan refers to a new law that not only bans alcohol ads but would also stop TV viewers from watching Homer Simpson enjoy a Duff beer in Moe’s Tavern, as depictions of drinking on television programs are to be blurred out.

London-based distiller Diageo, which two years ago paid $2.1 billion for Mey Icki, a maker of the Turkish national drink, raki, called the law “disappointing” in an e-mail. Yeni Raki, another producer of the anise-flavored liquor, recently ran a news-paper ad showing a hand shaking a glass of the drink with the words “Ads are over. Excuse us.” The country’s wine-makers have published ads — with text in the shape of a wine bottle — condemning the curbs on alcohol. Brewer Efes canceled a music festival in Istanbul and shut its website, something other producers are preparing to do.

The law, which takes effect on Sept. 9, also bars alcohol sales at night and near schools and mosques — a break with the secular traditions of the Muslim-majority country of 76 million, where many people drink and women often choose not to cover their hair. Protesters who’ve recently taken to the streets and called for Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s resignation have denounced the ban, among other grievances.

Erdoğan says the law is aimed at improving the nation’s health. As a substitute for raki, he declared ayran, a salty yogurt drink, to be the national beverage. “We did not ban alcohol; we just introduced a new framework,” Erdoğan said last month at a conference on controlling tobacco, another target. (In 2008 smoking was banned in coffeehouses and restaurants, and on May 31, Erdoğan extended the ban to drivers of cars and trucks.) “We want to raise a healthy generation,” he said at the conference.

Turks consume 3.4 liters of pure alcohol (adjusting for the varying alcohol content in different drinks) per capita annually, or a little more than half the global average, according to the World Health Organization. U.S. consumption is 9.4 liters, and in Moldova, the global leader, it’s 19.2 liters. Russia, with annual consumption of 15.7l liters per capita, a year ago began a similar crackdown with higher taxes, limits on where liquor can be sold, and ad restrictions. Industry regulations in the U.S. only allow ads for spirits when 70 percent of the audience is over the legal drinking age — during TV shows airing after 11 p.m., for example, or in high-end magazines.

In India, where alcohol ads have been prohibited for decades, producers have found a way around the ban by promoting other products under the same name. King-fisher beer and Bagpiper’s Scotch Ale, for instance, sell soda with logos similar to their alcohol brands. “Ad bans are not the way to make people drink less,” says Dominic Lyle, director general of the European Association of Communications Agencies in Brussels. The ban “is very much a political move,” he says. “It’s more about secular vs. religious.”

Turkish imports of European liquor declined from 9 million cases in 2002 to 8 million cases last year, although their value jumped to €129 million ($171 million) from €47 million as tastes shifted to pricier booze, according to Spirits-Europe, a trade association. The ban will prevent new products from entering Turkey because they won’t be able to build their brands with ads, says Paul Skehan, the group’s director. “There’s a lot of industry disappointment that this law was rushed through at supersonic speed and there was no consultation of the industries affected,” he says.

In a statement, Diageo — home to brands such as Johnnie Walker whiskey and Captain Morgan rum — said a “collaborative approach among the industry, government, and third parties would lead to a better outcome.” The Turkish Association of Advertising Agencies, citing “deep tension” with the government, declined to comment.

While the curbs will hurt, liquor producers still have high expectations for Turkey, says Spiros Malandrakis, a drinks analyst at Euromonitor International in London. “The potential for the market is massive,” he says. “It’s one of the few countries in the region that’s growing, so everyone wants in.”

The bottom line Liquor makers are fighting a ban on alcohol ads in Turkey, a measure the government says will improve public health.


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