According to a report written by controversial academic Professor Gerard Hastings, drinks companies are “pushing the boundaries” of the advertising code of practice.
The report, published in the British Medical Journal, is based on an analysis of internal marketing documents from four alcohol producers and their communications agencies. Documents included client briefs, media schedules, advertising budgets, and market research reports.
It claims drinks companies used market research data on 15 and 16 year olds to guide campaign development and deployment while “many references are made to the need to recruit new drinkers and establish their loyalty to a particular brand”.
The documents were made available as part of the House of Commons Health Committee inquiry into alcohol, while the analysis was carried out by a team led by the director of the Institute for Social Marketing, Professor Gerard Hastings.
David Poley, Portman Group chief executive, defended the UK’s regulatory system, claiming it is “admired across the world”.
“Gerard Hastings trawled through thousands of pages of internal company marketing documents on behalf of the Health Committee.He failed to find any evidence of actual malpractice.
“He therefore resorts to slurs and innuendos.We wish Gerard Hastings would publish his criticisms in an advertisement. The ASA could then rightly ban it for being misleading.”
ISBA director general Mike Hughes accused Hastings of “distorting the facts to support his own public agenda” while failing to identify “a single case of malpractice”.
Tim Lefroy, chief executive of the Advertising Association called the report a “gross misrepresentation of how advertising campaigns are made”.
However, Alcohol Concern chief executive Don Shenker, says the research suggests that drinks marketers are “working hard to recruit new drinkers” and not just promoting brand switching.
The Health Committee’s findings were published two weeks ago and included a call for tighter regulation on the marketing of alcoholic drinks.