Alcohol ad ban would be “seismic”, but it is unlikely

Marketers are warning of the “seismic” effect that a ban on advertising alcohol and the prohibition of sponsorship of sporting and music events by alcohol brands would have on media owners and rights holders.

Lovebox Gaymers Stage
Lovebox Gaymers Stage

Yesterday (8 September) the British Medical Association offered its solution to dealing with Britain’s binge drinking culture and the mounting cost to the NHS, to shut the door on all consumer marketing.

The Association, which represents Britain’s top doctors, says advertising seeks to draw Britons’ youth in from an early age and serves “to normalise alcohol as an essential part of every day life”, adding that existing curbs that aim to break the link between alcohol and sporting success are “weak”.

The alcohol industry and advertising bodies have been predictably robust in their responses, with the case for the defence claiming that existing restrictions are sufficient, and that ads lead to brand switching and not harmful drinking.

Nielson figures for the year to 30 June put the potential loss to media owners of an ad blackout at about £180m.

For sports clubs and sporting associations, a ban would deny what has proven to be a valuable and constant stream of revenue. To offer just a few examples, the Football League would have to look for an alternative source for the £15m title sponsor Carling is estimated to pay for its three-year title patronage of the League Cup, while McLaren F1 would be without Johnnie Walker and Liverpool Carlsberg.

David Atkinson, managing partner at Space Sport & Entertainment, says the impact of a ban would be “seismic”. He adds the sponsorship industry would need to attract either more money from existing brands, which would be “highly unlikely” in the current climate or attract new brands into sponsorship, another difficult task.

Antony Marcou, managing director of Sports Revolution, says some sports would be affected more than others.

“Premier League football clubs would whether the storm as betting brands continue to battle for rights in what is the biggest league in the world. However, other sports which have been hit by the downturn would find it much more difficult, especially those already vulnerable to a cut in spend by financial services and automotive advertisers.”

It is clear that both media and rights owners stand to lose out if legislators acted on the BMA’s proposals. But what appetite is there within Westminster for a ban?

The Department of Health says it is “not always right to legislate”, while the Department for Culture, Media and Sport was quick to point to Sheffield University research that created “substantial uncertainty” the impact a ban would have on misuse.

The Government has also in the last month given its conditional backing to the industry’s “Campaign for Smarter Drinking”, a £100m initiative developed by 45 companies that aims to change attitudes to drunkenness.

Despite these conciliatory noises, the BMA’s demands appear to have stirred marketers into action beyond yesterday’s initial robust defence.

One trade body, the Institute of Sales Promotion, is sponsoring a debate on drinks marketing to be held at the House of Commons on 19 October, its argument being that “prohibition of alcohol promotions will not encourage consumers to change their behaviour and drink sensibly”.

The ISP notes: “This should be a very lively and contentious discussion, with a chance for all sides to air their views”.

And with hundreds of millions at stake, you can be sure of that.

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