Health Committee - The Government's Alcohol StrategyWritten evidence from The Advertising Association (GAS 52)


The Advertising Association

1. The Advertising Association (AA) is the only organisation that represents all sides of the advertising and promotion industry in the UK—advertisers, agencies and the media. In the UK, the advertising industry directly employs over 300,000 people. In 2011, advertising expenditure was £16.1 billion.

2. We promote and protect advertising. We communicate its commercial and consumer benefits and we seek the optimal regulatory environment for our industry. Our goal is that advertising should enjoy responsibility from its practitioners, moderation from its regulators, and trust from its consumers.

3. We support the alcohol industry’s right to market and advertise their products responsibly.

Alcohol Advertising

4. Advertising is crucial to a competitive economy. It brings consumer benefits because it fuels brand competitiveness, thereby informing consumer choice. It also has an essential role in funding the media and creating a dynamic, competitive and pluralistic media marketplace. Alcohol advertising, like all advertising, helps fund investment in original UK content.

5. The alcoholic drinks and advertising industries are keen to play a positive and active role, in partnership with Government, in helping to find long-term solutions to alcohol misuse. The alcoholic drinks industry recognises that it has a special duty to ensure that its products are marketed responsibly, which is why alcohol companies originally set up the Portman Group, why they fund and promote the independent Drinkaware Trust, and why they support advertising self-regulation through the Advertising Standards Authority (ASA). The drinks industry regards public awareness and education initiatives as important and it funded the campaign Why let good times go bad? currently being rolled out by the Drinkaware Trust. The advertising industry, through the Advertising Association, ISBA (the Voice of British Advertisers), and the Outdoor Media Centre (OMC), have been involved in the Responsibility Deal process alongside the drinks industry.

6. In their commercial communications, companies seek to promote their brands responsibly but there is no value to being associated with encouraging irresponsible drinking. Alcohol misuse carries with it serious societal consequences and it is not in the interest of either the alcoholic drinks industry or the advertising industry to promote or condone it. Companies advertise to promote their brand over competitors’ brands, in other words to encourage brand-switching. Various studies have shown that advertising is very effective in achieving this, but there is no evidence that alcohol advertisements collectively impact on total consumption.

7. Everybody has a role to play in making sure that under-18s do not drink and that adults drink responsibly—parents, guardians, publicans, politicians, teachers, friends and advertisers. While recognising that advertising has a part to play in addressing the issue of under-age drinking, there is no evidence that advertising per se is a root cause of alcohol abuse.

Submission Overview

8. There are strict—and well enforced—rules that ensure alcohol marketing is not targeted at those under the legal drinking age or designed to appeal to them. These rules were tightened in 2005, and the advertising codes more generally are regularly revised. We welcome the opportunity to contribute to the Health Committee’s inquiry into the Government’s Alcohol Strategy, as we believe it is a useful exercise in making sure that the industry is getting the balance between responsibility and proportionality correct. The Strategy itself is an important document with intentions that we support.

9. Our submission falls into three parts: firstly, an overview of UK advertising regulation, secondly, a response to some of the key recommendations in the Alcohol Strategy, and finally, a response to the Committee’s identified examples of international evidence of ways to reduce consumption.

Overview of Alcohol Advertising Regulation

10. The UK has one of the most respected regulatory regimes for advertising in the world and the Advertising Standards Authority has some of the toughest advertising regulation in the world, which has a 99% compliance rate.1 We welcome the Alcohol Strategy’s positive comments about advertising self-regulation.

11. Alcohol advertising in the UK is already subject to controls that seek to prevent advertisers targeting and appealing to young people. The controls cover broadcast, print and online advertising and are a mix of co-regulation (with Ofcom) and self-regulation, administered by the ASA. The advertising of alcoholic beverages is regulated through the Advertising Codes of Practice (the CAP and BCAP Codes). These rules require that alcohol marketing is not targeted at those under the legal drinking age—either in terms of the content of the advertisement or the content of the media that surrounds it. Alcohol advertisements on television and radio are also pre-cleared before transmission.

12. The ASA regularly monitors alcohol advertising to ensure compliance with the rules. The ASA’s adjudications against advertisers are published and result in swift action to remove or amend those advertisements that contravene the rules; compliance is extremely high. The Portman Group’s code deals with alcohol promotions and marketing.

Content Rules

13. The alcohol advertising rules were tightened significantly in 2005 in response to Government objectives set out in the 2004 Alcohol Harm Reduction Strategy. The Advertising Standards Authority ensures that alcohol ads must never:

Target under-18s.

Be shown around programmes that especially appeal to under-18s.

Link alcohol with irresponsible, anti-social, tough or daring behaviour.

Show alcohol being served irresponsibly.

Show people drinking and behaving in an adolescent or juvenile way or reflecting the culture of people under 18 years old.

Link alcohol with seduction, sex or social success.

Show those who are or appear to be under the age of 25 drinking alcohol or clearly having consumed alcohol.

14. Following the strengthening of the BCAP rules in 2005, an Ofcom study has noted that there has been a decline in the proportion of young people saying they feel that alcohol commercials are aimed at them.2

Exposure Rules

15. On television and radio, alcohol advertising is subject to scheduling restrictions which ensure that alcohol advertising does not appear around programmes of particular appeal to those under 18. For television, whether or not a programme is “of particular appeal” to under 18s is assessed using a statistical tool—the 120 index. This index identifies television programmes of particular appeal to under-18s—if the proportion of children watching a programme is more than 20% higher than the proportion of the UK television population watching the programme, it receives an index of 120 or higher, and therefore an alcohol advertisement cannot be shown around this programme.

16. The CAP Code sets out the rules for non-broadcast advertising (including cinema advertising). It dictates that no medium should be used to advertise alcoholic drinks if more than 25% of its audience is under 18 years old. In March 2011, these rules were extended to cover companies’ and other organisations’ marketing claims on their own websites and in other non-paid online space under their control, such as social network sites. Furthermore, the Portman Group’s Digital Marketing Guidelines were published in October 2009 and covered these platforms.

Response to Specific Proposals in the Alcohol Strategy

Proposal to examine ways to ensure that adverts promoting alcohol are not shown during programmes of high appeal to young people

17. The Alcohol Strategy recognises that the current rules prevent alcohol adverts being shown in a context which will have “a particular appeal” to people aged under 18. We believe that the combination of the exposure rules and the content are a proportionate way to regulate alcohol advertising.

18. We recognise that some television programmes that attract large audiences of all ages often include a significant number of under-18s in their audience. However, it is critical to recognize that the 120 index ensures that alcohol is not allowed to be advertised in programmes of particular appeal to under-18 and that the content and messaging of such advertisements target drinkers over the age of 18. Adult viewers constitute the great majority of the audience for such programmes and these are the people that the advertising is intending to target.

19. There is no demonstrable health benefit in introducing stricter exposure rules, and no rigorous, independent research which demonstrates this would result in a reduction in harmful drinking. More restrictive rules could also have disproportionate consequences on TV broadcasters and sports bodies, potentially reducing broadcaster revenues worth tens of millions of pounds, with detrimental effects on investment in original programming and on TV sports coverage.

20. The factors behind alcohol misuse are complex and vary between population groups and regions and there are many societal causes. Peer pressure is a significant factor behind binge-drinking amongst 18–24 year olds, and if the Government is seriously to tackle binge-drinking, its emphasis should be on practical measures such as information programmes at universities and colleges. In 2008, a study commissioned by the Advertising Association and undertaken by Volterra Consulting concluded that social influence operating through personal friendship networks is sufficient by itself to explain a large rise in binge drinking amongst young people.3 This would indicate that the Government should focus on the social influences leading to high youth alcohol consumption, rather than the fact that on occasion youngsters may see alcohol advertisements that are not targeted at them.

Proposal to consult on a ban on multi-buy promotions

21. We do not believe multi-buy alcohol promotions are inherently irresponsible; consumers are used to such multi-buy promotions in respect of many different goods and services. The focus should not be on banning a form of marketing, but rather on ensuring that all forms of marketing are undertaken in a responsible manner. We will respond to this consultation when launched by the Government but in the meantime we urge the Government to ensure that any proposals are proportionate and evidence-based.

Proposal to work with the ASA to ensure the full and vigorous application of ASA powers to online and social media and work with industry to develop a scheme to verify people’s actual ages which will apply to alcohol company websites and associated social media

22. Social networking and digital media are bound by the same rules as the off-line world. Marketing content cannot appeal to children and there are strict online requirements such as Age Affirmation Pages (AAPs) and parental controls for brand websites. As the proposal indicates, there is much greater opportunity for drinks companies to screen out under-18s on digital and social media, enabling them to target only those of legal drinking age.

23. As is well-recognised, the combination of the global nature of the internet and anonymous browsing experience makes fully certified age verification online extremely difficult. Nonetheless, the industry is working closely with UKCCIS to better understand the potential solutions to this issue.

24. Various measures have been put in place to ensure that children are discouraged from looking at drinks advertising and marketing. Drinks companies provide age affirmation requirements to access their websites. In addition, advertising rules require the content of an alcohol ad to be targeted at those above the legal drinking age. In other words, if a young person does access the page, the content is unlikely to appeal to them. Alcohol Concern’s recent report found that only a very small minority in a focus group had seen alcohol companies advertising on Facebook, none were aware of alcohol channels on YouTube; none of the respondents admitted to being aware of or visiting alcohol brand websites—as they “did not anticipate that such websites would contain games and competitions, but instead expected them to be dry and informative, providing factual information...”.4

Proposal to continue to work through the Responsibility Deal to support the alcohol industry to market, advertise and sell their products in a responsible way and deliver the core commitment to “foster a culture of responsible drinking, which will help people to drink within guidelines”

25. The Advertising Association has participated in the Responsibility Deal process and signed the Pledge on advertising. This included working with ISBA and the Outdoor Media Centre in respect of the new voluntary restriction put in place by OMC on outdoor alcohol advertising within 100m of schools.

26. We also support the various Government campaigns aimed at changing behaviour over the longer term. We believe advertising can be part of the wider holistic approach to promoting behavioural change through positive messaging.

Identified Examples of International Evidence of Ways to Reduce Consumption

An alcohol advertising ban

27. The Advertising Association is a firm proponent of evidence-based policy making so we welcome the Strategy’s recognition that there is no evidence demonstrating that an advertising ban is a proportionate response to reducing alcohol consumption. In France, where alcohol advertising is banned on TV, cinema and the internet, an official French parliament report stated that this ban had been ineffective in reducing high-risk drinking patterns. There has been a steady decrease in annual alcohol consumption in France over the last 40 years. The decrease started long before the adoption of the Loi Evin rules banning such advertising in 1991 and even slowed down slightly following it adoption.5 Even the French anti-alcohol NGO ANPAA accepts that the effects of the law are “weak”.6

28. Alcohol advertising bans do not work: in Norway there is no advertising for alcoholic beverages, but consumption has been steadily increasing. In Italy, where alcohol advertising is permitted, consumption is decreasing.7 An advertising ban is not the solution to the complex problem of harmful alcohol consumption and those who press for it risk missing the real causes.

Plain packaging

29. We do not recognise the provenance of the reference to plain packaging in the Health Committee’s inquiry into the Alcohol Strategy: it is not in the Alcohol Strategy nor has alcohol plain packaging ever been proposed by the UK Government.

30. There is no hard evidence on the impact on consumption of any product arising from a plain packaging policy, but such a policy would equate to a de facto advertising ban. Branding provides extremely important consumer, social and economic functions and we believe that any consideration that alcohol branding might be restricted would be an extreme, disproportionate regulatory approach.

May 2012


2 Young People and Alcohol Advertising, Ofcom, 16/11/07


4 New media, new problem? Alcohol, young people and the internet, Alcohol Concern, June 2011,,%20new%20problem.pdf

5 WHO figures -

6 The Loi Evin: a French exception, Dr. Alain Rigaud, Président Association Nationale de Prévention en Alcoologie et Addictologie (ANPAA)


Prepared 21st July 2012