Marketers could do more to create engaging anti-alcohol abuse messages

Imagine a scenario where all alcohol advertising and promotion is banned – removed from outdoor, print, cinema and digital media, as well as television. Where even retail outlets cannot display point of sale and as for pub promotions – forget it. Sport sponsorship? It’s a no-go. In such an environment, how could brands possibly create loyalty and encourage the take-up of new products and variants among consumers? 

Branwell Johnson

In Turkey a law prohibiting alcohol advertising is due to be passed. Obviously, Turkey is a very different marketplace from the UK, with a 2011 TNS study finding that less than 18 per cent of the adult population drink alcohol. But the pressure is mounting against alcohol marketing even in countries where the majority do like a tipple –Norway and France already prohibit outdoor and television advertising of alcohol.

In the UK, the only tools to tackle alcohol abuse seem to be minimum prices per unit of alcohol or curbs on marketing. The former looks to have been kicked into the long grass, in England at least. Guess where that leaves drinks industry marketers? On the defensive and facing tightening regulatory screws.

Ofcom has asked the regulators to review whether tougher curbs on alcohol advertising are needed. This follows research commissioned by the Government showing that children are seeing an increasing number of alcohol ads per week. 

The industry is moving to address weak spots in self-regulation and industry body the Portman Group will now oversee the application of its marketing code of practice to PR, blogs and other content not in the remit of the Advertising Standards Authority.

Another way to placate the authorities is campaigns that call for responsible drinking. There have been campaigns showing the distress or embarrassment caused by excessive drinking, such as ‘Why let good times go bad?’ led by Drinkaware. But there is the niggling feeling marketers could be doing more to create engaging anti-alcohol abuse messages and that companies could dig deeper to fund relevant activity.

According to the Drinkaware website, funding from the long list of its drink industry stakeholders amounts to £5m a year, supplemented with “in kind” support. Having just witnessed Google being taken to task for donating “just 90 seconds’ profit to [a] charity policing child abuse”, as one national newspaper headline put it, I’d hate to see the big drinks suppliers attract similar negative media coverage for being tight-fisted and not taking the societal issues of problem drinking seriously.

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