This is a monthly discussion of "issues to watch" in the field of alcohol policy.
Trends in alcohol marketing: Is it still possible to regulate alcohol marketing effectively?
Alcohol is no ordinary commodity and, as a result, should not include a standardized marketing strategy to sell it or to govern its promotion. For numerous years, the Alcohol Policy Network and other stakeholders in Ontario have supported, through research, the reinstatement of the former Advertising Pre-clearance Protocols overseen by the Canadian Radio-television Telecommunications Commission (CRTC). As seen through research, alcohol advertising is as much a major social issue today as it was in 1997, when the Advertising Pre-clearance Protocols were disbanded.
A recent study published in the American Journal of Public Health by the University of California at Los Angeles (UCLA) and the Center for Alcohol Monitoring and Youth (CAMY) found that alcohol advertising on television increased as underage viewership increased.
The findings, summarized by lead researcher Dr. Paul J. Chung of the UCLA Children’s Hospital, found that “…almost all alcohol ads appeared in time slots with audiences made up of 30% (or fewer) underage viewers. In these time slots (standardized by duration and number of viewers), each 1-percentage-point increase in adolescent viewership was associated with more beer (7%), spirits (15%), and alcopop or low-alcohol refresher (22%) ads, but fewer wine (–8%) ads (P<.001 for all). For spirits and alcopops, associations were stronger among adolescent girls than among adolescent boys (P<.001 for each).”
Why the problem?
Public health officials and social activists have long argued that increased alcohol promotion to high-risk audiences (e.g., underage consumers, pregnant women, heavy drinkers) is a detriment to their health. In the past, most advertising campaigns targeted males between the ages of 18-35. Such campaigns often included components attractive to this audience such as the use of celebrities, attractive models, popular music, etc. In addition to this key market, the advertising of alcohol has recently expanded to include a focus on women, the socially conscience person, the environmentalist, and others.
While attracting these new markets, promotion of alcohol has the ability to attract underage consumers through making it a desirable product. Public health officials and social policy activists argue that advertisements targeting youth will persuade youth to drink, which in turn can lead to various preventable social consequences including; binge drinking, alcohol poisoning, sexual assault, violence, impaired auto collisions, etc.
Recently, there seems to be a push from many fronts, including the United Kingdom and the Netherlands, to re-examine alcohol marketing. This push includes stricter controls of advertising and less control granted to private industry.
In Ontario, action based on research could include:
- Making strong recommendations to advertising governing bodies to improve their standards and operational procedures;
- Improving the current regulatory system by working with provincial governments;
- Implementing and supporting effective alcohol control policies;
- Making recommendations for improvement to advertising standards agencies such as Advertising Standards Canada, the Alcohol and Gaming Commission of Ontario, and the Canadian Radio-television Telecommunications Commission;
- Sharing recommendations with public health agencies and community interest groups;
- Mobilizing local community action in regards to marketing campaigns.
If you wish to read more about regulating alcohol advertising you can download a copy of The Effectiveness of Regulating Alcohol Advertising: Policies and Public Health [PDF] from our website.
Additionally, the Alcohol Policy Network is facilitating a teleconference on September 30, 2009 on Trends in alcohol marketing: Is it still possible to regulate alcohol marketing effectively?
This teleconference will describe the effects alcohol advertising has on drinking behavior among youth while presenting frequently used policy measures to regulate alcohol marketing. Additionally, new trends in alcohol marketing will be discussed including possible consequences and challenges of these new marketing tools for existing alcohol marketing regulations. Lastly, the presentation will include recommendations for public health agencies and policy makers to decrease harmful effects of alcohol advertising among children and adolescents.
You can also learn more about alcohol advertising at our Information Pack on Alcohol Advertising or from a variety of other websites including: