Turkey's president, Abdullah Gul, is expected to sign into law in the next week a bill banning alcohol advertising, and marketers are already racing to get out their poignant farewell messages to consumers.
In May, Turkey's legislative body passed a draconian bill that outlaws all forms of alcohol advertising and promotion, prohibits TV shows, movies and music videos that air on TV from including scenes that stimulate use of alcohol, and ends the sale of alcoholic beverages in stores between 10 pm and 6 am. Stores will also lose income from the point-of-sale signage they can no longer display. It will also be illegal to sell alcohol near schools and mosques, limiting distribution points.
Until now, alcohol advertising has been allowed in Turkey in print, outdoor, cinema and digital media. The new rules are being imposed with little consultation with marketers.
"For almost a year, we've been trying to reach the Turkish government to re-evaluate the proposals for the new regulations on the promotion and sales of alcoholic beverages," said Diageo in a statement. "When we acquired Mey Icki in 2011, we did not only invest in a strong brand, but also in a country which claims that it encourages foreign investments...The fast confirmation of these regulations turning into law, has been a surprise and disappointment for us. But we always respect the laws of each country we operate in."
Diageo owns Mey Icki, the fourth most-advertised alcohol brand by number of ads, according to Nielsen, and Yeni Raki, a version of Turkey's popular local pastis-like drink raki. Diageo's Yeni Raki, Turkey's leading beer brand Efes and wine producers have all run full-page farewell ads in Turkish newspapers.
For local brand Efes, known for its familiar thick, squat bottle, TBWA Istanbul designed a big image of the naked brown bottle without its label. In the Yeni Raki ad by BrandTheBliss, a hand shakes a glass holding the clear liquid drink above the words "Ads are over. Excuse us."
In the wine category, the Wine Producers Association ran an ad with text arranged in the shape of a wine bottle under the headline "Now we commend the 7,000 year old Anatolian wine to your care." Well-known wine brand Doluca said goodbye with the upbeat message "Even if we won't speak to you here [any more], we still see the glass half full, because we know that we are still going to be together in your precious moments. So long!"
Turkey isn't exactly a country of heavy drinkers. In fact, 82.4% of the Turkish population above the age of 18 never drinks alcoholic beverages, according to a 2011 study of Turkish consumers by TNS. The Turkish government insists that the new rules are not the beginning of a religious ban on drinking in the increasingly conservative country.
Deputy Prime Minister Bekir Bozdag told reporters on Friday "The new law including alcohol regulation is not a lifestyle intervention. Because this regulation does not ban alcohol."
Stephan Loerke, managing director of the World Federation of Advertisers, said the World Health Organization has cast alcohol issues as a public health concern around the world. In Turkey's case, he said, "the motivation is probably as much ideological as public health."
"The industry would welcome the opportunity to engage with the government and collaborate in an effort to help address public health challenges," Mr. Loerke said. "The [Turkish] initiative was announced without any consultation. They were caught by surprise. We're trying to establish contacts with the government."
"I wouldn't say there will be a domino effect, but it's clearly an unhelpful precedent," he said.