Are Age Verification Tools on Brewery Websites Legally Required?

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I was recently asked to answer a proposal for a brewery website and one of the requirements was an age verification device which pops up: such as found on the Stella Artois website (above).

Like any half decent web consultant, I take incoming requirements with a slight pinch of salt, I mean, I’m not a short order chef – I add value when I help set the requirements, when I’m free to work out what is right for the client. So, it’s no surprise that my spider senses tingled at the above line provoking the following thought:

Hmm..a blocking pop-up to enter a website? Ew! That’s an ugly, usability, SEO, accessibility nightmare. Is this bad boy actually a legally required thing?

The Case For:

Alcohol is obviously a sensitive subject and it’s a subject close to heart; my mum has struggled with it for years. I’ve seen first hand what it can do and how someone’s life can be altered by it. So it’s fair enough to expect that the producers, distributers and advertisers of alcohol have a duty of care to help educate and inform the public.

Guinness have a pop up. So do Brooklyn brewery, Stone Brew etc.

The Case Against:

Well, let’s start with the obvious: it’s not very effective at protecting the under age from alcohol: the pop up may as well say “Do you want to enter this website? [YES / NO]” #hopeless no?

So, if it’s hopeless, all we’re doing is making harder for people to enter the website. Meh.

And what about the SEO angle? What the hell will Google make of this?! Not much, I’d say.

Fullers don’t use this solution. Neither do Brew Dog.

The Key Question:

So, the key question is this: “is this a legal requirement?“.

So let’s cut to the chase:

So, the UK and US view seems pretty clear to me. It’s not a legal requirement but it’s more of a moral maze.

So what has happened here?

My guess is that marketing departments have simply copied other websites; on the flawed premise that if X are doing it then there must be a good reason for it (false).

To put it another way: people are not sure what to do so they want to be seen to be doing the right thing. But doesn’t that just make your heart sink? Surely trying to be seen to do something and actively doing something useful are two completely different things?

And before you think that perhaps it makes a difference if you actually sell beer online or not; well, consider this: do Tesco et al have these gateway pages on their website? Nope.

A cop-out?

So is this copying just a cop-out? Yeah, probably. It’s a mediocre solution full of sound and fury but, ultimately, signifying nothing. Perhaps a design solution led be fear; heck, we saw of lot of that during the cookie law fiasco!

If you really want to do something about (say) under age drinking then you need to go about it a different way; e.g. have some global banners across the site or find some other way which, in the best tradition of your brand, helps address this concern. Because paying lip service to other half arsed solutions is not it.

Well, that’s my 2p.


Further Reading

On researching for this post I can came across the following useful articles:

Thanks also to the Advertising Standards Authority, US Brewers AssociationRobert Gale, Adam Auckland for his thoughts.


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One Response

  1. charliesaidthat says:

    Fantastic, I had no idea whether this was a requirement or not. Thanks for sharing!

    Something which has puzzled me for years. Always seemed like a silly thing to do given it is so easy to circumnavigate.

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