Ad industry slams research claiming alcohol marketing rules are failing youth

Advertising bodies have said the research does not provide a “useful commentary” or “reflect accurately the strict regulatory system” surrounding alcohol advertising in the UK.

alcohol marketing

The advertising industry has hit back at research which claims that current alcohol marketing rules are failing to protect under-18s.

The research, which includes a series of reports in a supplement to the scientific journal Addiction, presents the latest evidence on alcohol marketing and its impact on children.

Key findings from the research include:

  • Exposure to alcohol marketing is associated with youth alcohol consumption.
  • Analysis of alcohol promotion during the 2014 FIFA World Cup indicates alcohol marketing practices frequently appeared to breach industry voluntary codes of practice.
  • Alcohol industry self-regulatory codes do not sufficiently protect children and adolescents from exposure to alcohol promotions, especially through social media.

The supplement comprises 14 papers with research from around the world, and was funded by Alcohol Research UK and the Institute of Alcohol Studies.

Health professionals have consequently called on governments to strengthen the rules around alcohol marketing and believe the most effective response to alcohol marketing is a comprehensive ban.

“Governments have previously approved self-regulatory measures on alcohol advertising; however, we can no longer say that they might work to protect our young people – they don’t. In a literature review of more than 100 studies, none was identified that supported the effectiveness of industry self-regulation programmes,” says Chris Brookes, director of global business development at the UK Health Forum.

Ad industry hits back

Alcohol Concern has welcomed the research released today. The charity’s CEO Joanna Simons says the Government has already acknowledged the link between alcohol marketing and consumption, and supports calls for stricter regulation.

“To protect the younger generation we need an independent alcohol advertising regulator and for the Government to implement the phased removal of alcohol marketing from sporting, cultural and music events, as it did with tobacco,” she says.

Alcohol policy is clearly on the right track and alcohol advertising – which protects children and respects adults – is an important part of that.

Ian Barber, the Advertising Association

But the advertising industry has hit back at the report, with the Advertising Standards Authority claiming it does not provide a “useful commentary or reflect accurately” the strict regulatory system surrounding alcohol advertising in the UK.

“The UK alcohol advertising rules are among the strictest in the world,” a spokesman tells Marketing Week.

Current rules state that alcohol ads must not link alcohol with seduction, sex or social success, link alcohol with irresponsible, anti-social, tough or daring behaviour, show alcohol being served irresponsibly or show people drinking and behaving in an adolescent or juvenile way.

They are also prohibited from appearing in or around children’s TV programmes, or programmes likely to have a particular appeal to children.

“The rules are based on the best available evidence of the potential harm alcohol ads may have and place, deliberately, an emphasis on the protection of children and responsible advertising. The ASA is also independent and administers the rules effectively across media including in the digital space,” he adds.

Meanwhile, the Advertising Association (AA) believes current rules and regulations around alcohol show the UK is “on the right track”, pointing to Government figures showing under-age drinking at a record low and a decline in binge drinking.

“Alcohol policy is clearly on the right track and alcohol advertising – which protects children and respects adults – is an important part of that,” says Ian Barber, the AA’s director of communications.

The drinks industry has also dismissed the report: “Unfortunately there is a misperception that believes self-regulation is simply the industry sitting in judgment on itself. It isn’t, and it shouldn’t be. There is also a misperception that self-regulation is incapable of moving quickly; in reality, relying on the courts to rule on individual code breaches would be much slower, more expensive and less efficient,” says Dave Roberts, director general of the Alcohol Information Partnership, which represents companies such as Pernod Ricard and Diageo.

“Instead of restricting companies’ freedom to operate and compete it would be better for Government to focus on understanding what has worked so well over the past decade and encourage more of the same. Where there are pockets of harm intervention should be directed towards those communities or age groups.”