A new study published in the journal Alcohol & Alcoholism has found alcohol adverts commonly appeal to minors.
Half of 11 to 17-year-olds surveyed reacted positively to the adverts featuring Fosters and Smirnoff brands (53% and 52% respectively), and a third reacted positively to an advert featuring the Haig Club brand (34%). Among adolescents who had never consumed alcohol, associations were seen between positive reactions to the adverts and susceptibility to initiate alcohol use in the next year.
The new findings are leading researchers to call for UK policymakers to consider improving alcohol advertising legislation.
Lead author of the study, Dr Sadie Boniface, who is head of research at the Institute of Alcohol Studies, said:
We already knew that exposure to alcohol marketing is high among young people. We wanted to build on other studies that spoke directly to young people about their views, taking advantage of the large number of adolescents in this study. Based on what we know from other research, it was not a surprise that these adverts commonly appealed to young people.
The association between positive reactions to the adverts and being susceptible to [consume alcohol] among underage adolescents who have never tried alcohol is of particular concern. This was consistent for each of the three adverts studied.
Taken together with other research, there is strong evidence the current UK alcohol marketing regulations are inadequate in protecting young people from being exposed to content that does appeal to them and influences their behaviour.”Dr Sadie Boniface, head of research, Institute of Alcohol Studies
A more complex analysis of the relationship between positive reactions to the alcohol adverts and alcohol use found that:
- Among approximately 1,500 adolescents who had never consumed alcohol, having a positive reaction to each of the adverts was associated with around one and a half times increased odds of being susceptible to consume alcohol in the next year.
- Among approximately 900 current alcohol users, positive reactions to two of the three adverts were associated with around 1.4 times increased odds of being a higher risk alcohol user.
As this was a cross-sectional study, the link between reactions to the adverts and alcohol use behaviours is not causal. However, the researchers note that their findings tie in with other evidence that has established underage adolescents’ awareness of various alcohol marketing activities, and links between marketing exposure and subsequent alcohol use.
Details of the study
The researchers analysed data from a sample of 2,500 11 to 17-year-olds in the Youth Alcohol Policy Survey, an online cross-sectional survey of adolescents conducted by YouGov for Cancer Research UK in April and May 2017.
The adolescents were shown three television alcohol adverts from well-known beer and spirit brands (Fosters Radler, Smirnoff, and Haig Club Clubman). Participants were then asked to rate a series of statements which were used to determine their reaction to the advert. More than half reacted positively to the two adverts comprising content of a humorous or fun nature (53% for Fosters and 52% Smirnoff). A third (34%) did the same for the more ‘sophisticated and stylish’ Haig Club Clubman advert.
The survey was conducted by YouGov Plc. The total sample size was 2,551 11 to 17-year-olds (within a sample of 3,399 11 to 19-year-olds). Fieldwork was undertaken between April and May 20217. The survey was carried out online. The figures were weighted and are representative of 11 to 19-year-olds in the UK by age, gender, ethnicity, UK region and Index of Multiple Deprivation (IMD) deciles.
The adverts selected were from the ‘Good Call’ campaign for Fosters Radler (a type of lager flavoured with lemon juice (2% ABV)), the ‘Make Your Own Rules’ campaign for Haig Club Clubman whisky (40% ABV) featuring David Beckham, and the ‘We’re Open’ campaign for Smirnoff vodka (37.5% ABV).
Alcohol ads appeal to minors
- 53% of minors had a positive reaction to the Fosters Radler advert,
- 52% of minors had a positive reaction to the Smirnoff advert, and
- 34% of minors had a positive reaction to the Haig Club Clubman advert.
Alcohol ads increase risk of alcohol use initiation
- Among never alcohol users, the Fosters Radler advert was associated with 1.65 increased odds of susceptibility to consume alcohol,
- The Haig Club Clubman advert was associated with 1.59 times increased odds of minors who had never used alcohol initiating consumption,
- and the Smirnoff advert was associated with 1.44 times increased odds.
Among current alcohol users, positive reactions to the Fosters Radler advert were associated with 1.46 times increased odds of higher risk alcohol use and positive reactions to the Haig Club Clubman advert were associated with 1.37 times increased odds. Positive reactions to the Smirnoff advert were not significantly associated with higher risk alcohol use.
Alcohol marketing regulation in the UK
In the UK, alcohol marketing is regulated through a complaints-led system of self-regulation by the alcohol and the advertising industries as well as co-regulation with The Office of Communications (Ofcom).
Systems like these have been shown to fail to protect minors from alcohol marketing.
Although only three adverts were used in this study, they were not in breach of the UK marketing codes, and therefore could be seen to be typical of alcohol advertising. In that light, the finding that these adverts commonly appealed to underage adolescents illustrates the weaknesses in the current self-regulatory regime.
Ultimately the new findings further contribute to broader concerns about complaints-led self-regulatory approaches.
Protecting minors against predatory corporate behavior
The WHO-UNICEF-Lancet Commission on the future of the world’s children highlighted in 2020 the need to address alcohol harm and to use alcohol policy solutions to protect children from predatory behavior of the alcohol industry.
The WHO–UNICEF–Lancet Commission is set to lay the foundations for a new global movement for child health that addresses two major crises adversely affecting children’s health, well-being and development; the Commission presented high-level recommendations that position children at the centre of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).
The first sentences of the Commission’s Executive Summary outline the two crisis:
Despite dramatic improvements in survival, nutrition, and education over recent decades, today’s children face an uncertain future. Climate change, ecological degradation, migrating populations, conflict, pervasive inequalities, and predatory commercial practices threaten the health and future of children in every country.”WHO–UNICEF–Lancet Commission on the future for the world’s children
The climate emergency is rapidly undermining the future survival of all species, and the likelihood of a world in which all children enjoy their right to health appears increasingly out of reach. A second existential threat that is more insidious has emerged: predatory commercial exploitation that is encouraging harmful and addictive activities that are extremely deleterious to young people’s health.
Unregulated marketing is exposing children to harmful products. They are speaking out on how it makes them feel. UNICEF is calling on governments and businesses to join forces to end child-targeted marketing practices for processed foods, nicotine and alcohol.”Henrietta H. Fore, Chief, UNICEF, on Twitter on February 26, 2020
In this context it is remarkable that David Beckham is a Unicef ambassador but at the same time is part of predatory corporate behavior of the alcohol industry to promote alcohol use and harm among minors.
About the Institute of Alcohol Studies
The Institute of Alcohol Studies is an independent institute bringing together evidence, policy and practice to promote an informed debate on alcohol’s impact on society.
The IAS purpose is to advance the use of the best available evidence in public policy decisions on alcohol. For more information visit www.ias.org.uk.
About Cancer Research UK
Cancer Research UK is the world’s leading cancer charity dedicated to saving lives through research. Cancer Research UK supports research into all aspects of cancer through the work of over 4,000 scientists, doctors and nurses. Together with its partners and supporters, Cancer Research UK’s vision is to bring forward the day when all cancers are cured. For further information about Cancer Research UK’s work visit www.cancerresearchuk.org.