After 22 alcohol ads appeared in program with under 18 audience, MTV finds itself heavily criticized
The Advertising Standards Authority (ASA), the UK’s regulator of advertising across all media whose members are drawn from the advertising industry, has taken issue with MTV after 22 alcohol adverts appeared in eight episodes of Geordie Shore, a reality TV show, December 2014.
MTV is the latest in a range of broadcasters to be caught advertising alcohol during programs highly probable to target children. MTV responded to the ASA claiming that Geordie Shore is a reality show with “extreme content” and that “no attempt has ever been made” to make the programme appeal to under-18s. MTV defended its alcohol advertising by pointing to its analysis that “merely” 5.5% of ad breaks in Geordie Shore contained alcohol ads, compared to 21% of breaks in the 9pm-to-1am slot across TV as a whole.
The ASA disagreed with MTV’s view and argued:
“A reality show featuring cast members in their late teens and early twenties could appeal to under-18s, particularly when broadcast in the 9pm-to-9.59pm time slot”.
The UK advertising code bans advertising from appearing in or around programs targeted at or likely to appeal to under-18s. According to OFCOM, the government communications regulator in the UK, alcohol advertising is prohibited from airing in programs attracting an audience of 10- to- 15-year olds that is 20% or more above the norm (index of 120).
According to OFCOM’s rules, alcohol advertising is not allowed to be aired in programmes that attract an audience of 10-to-15-year-olds that is 20% or more above the norm, referred to as an index of 120 or more. After analzying the MTV program from last December, the ASA revealed that 22 alcohol ads in eight programs broke the audience index 120.
The MTV investigation forms a wider monitoring exercise by the ASA in order to test the response of broadcasters to the BCAP Code (The UK Code of Broadcast Advertising).
The Guardian reports a number of other cases where broadcasters obviously violated rules to expose children to alcohol advertising:
- September 2013: Comedy Central ran alcohol ads in almost 80 episodes of “Friends” when a significant proportion of the audience was under 18.
- July 2013: Channel 4 aired alcohol ads during shows appealing to adolescents, including hit US comedy import “The Big Bang Theory.”
- September 2013: ITV ran alcohol ads in almost 40 episodes of “You’ve Been Framed.”
ASA is funded by independent boards of finance, which levy the advertising industry. The ASA Council consists of a two-thirds majority of lay members and includes Jean Coussins, the former chief executive of the Portman Group – and alcohol industry front group. The council adjudicates complaints about breaches of the code through separate panels for broadcasting and non-broadcast media.
The ASA has repeatedly come under criticism of its for its weakness in protecting children and adolescents from alcohol advertising, for for being pro-alcohol industry in many cases. The fact that ASA criticizes MTV and other broadcasters so strongly for their failures is thus an encouraging trend, even though the self-regulation model has apparent weaknesses.
For further reading: Rob Baggot: Alcohol strategy and the drinks industry