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Despite current advertising regulations in the UK that aim to prevent the alcohol industry from directing its marketing messages to under 18s, there’s evidence that shows the messages are still getting through to children

Previous research has estimated that during the 2010 football World Cup, over a million children aged between four and fifteen would have been exposed to alcohol adverts during live England games shown on ITV. Similarly, an analysis of internal alcohol advertising documents, presented to the House of Commons Health Select Committee, concluded that young people are “a key target” for alcohol advertisers.

New research, published last week by Alcohol Concern Cymru, has added further evidence that children are being frequently exposed to advertising for alcohol products intended for adult consumption.  The study involved 10 and 11 year old children being shown the brand names and commercial logos of common alcohol products, as well as images from television alcohol advertisements, alongside those for popular non-alcoholic products such as soft drinks and breakfast cereals. The children were asked to select which ones belonged to their appropriate category, namely ‘food, ‘soft drink’ or ‘alcoholic drink’.

It was found that the number of children able to identify alcohol branding and advertising was comparable to, and in some cases, greater than those who recognised brand and advertising for products known to appeal to and often aimed at young people, such as ice cream and cake. 79% of the 10 and 11 year olds, for example, correctly recognised the Carlsberg brand name as an alcoholic drink, higher than Ben and Jerry’s ice cream and Mr Kipling cakes, whilst 75% of the children correctly associated an image of the fictional characters ‘Brad and Dan’ from a Fosters television advert with alcohol, much higher than those who recognised the Cadbury’s ‘gorilla’ advertisement as advertising a food product (42%).

So, why should we be worried? It has always been difficult to prove conclusively that alcohol advertising instigates consumption, but there is a growing body of research that suggests children’s exposure to alcohol advertising increases the likelihood that they will start to use alcohol and will drink more than if they are already drinking it. If children repeatedly see and hear positive messages about alcohol, then their expectations of alcohol are likely to reflect the content of such messages.

Alcohol Concern believes more effective controls are needed to ensure alcohol marketing only reaches adult audiences. Duplicating the French model may provide a solution. The Loi Évin places substantial restrictions on broadcast alcohol advertising and does not allow alcohol industry sponsorship of cultural and sporting events due to their likely appeal to young people. Where alcohol advertising is permitted in France, it must be strictly factual and refer only to the characteristics of the products, such as strength, place of origin, ingredients, and method of production, and must include a clear health warning. We urge that a similar system of regulation be considered for the UK.

“Making an impression: Recognition of alcohol brands by primary school children is available at

Written by Mark Leyshon
Monday, 19 March 2012 15:03

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