Alcohol Advertising

The alcohol advertising industries argue that as alcoholic drink is a legal product it should be legally possible for it to be advertised, and that bans on alcohol advertising would have adverse effects on the alcohol market and on the media. They also argue that bans are not justified as advertising is concerned with promoting sales of individual brands and there is no evidence of a causal link between advertising and the overall level of alcohol consumption or the amount of alcohol related harm.


The main counter-arguments are that as well as promoting brands, advertising is also concerned with recruiting new drinkers and increasing sales among existing, and especially heavy consumers. Intensive advertising and promotion of alcohol appears to sanction and legitimate use of a product which causes high levels of damage to individuals and society. By definition, alcohol advertising is one sided, avoiding any reference to the negative aspects of alcohol consumption. In modern circumstances, it is also necessary to enable alcohol to compete against other alternative drugs as well as soft drinks. There is in fact some evidence  that bans on alcohol advertising can have beneficial effect on the level of harm, at least in the longer term. 


Alcohol advertising are in most respects parallel to those concerning tobacco advertising, An analysis of internal documents from advertising agencies working for tobacco companies exposed as highly disingenuous the standard tobacco (and alcohol) industry arguments that advertising is only about expanding or protecting brand share, not total consumption, and that if there are any problems industry self regulation is the answer. 


The aim was to increase consumption as well as brand share. Individual brands gain from market expansion and therefore deliberate plans were made to encourage it. Other Industry strategies included undermining government policy and evading regulation – for example, resisting and circumventing restrictions on advertising and tax increases on tobacco products. Voluntary, self regulatory codes were treated cynically, the advertising agencies playing cat and mouse with the regulatory body, pushing to the limits and avoiding the rules whenever possible. 


The young were a key target, and the imagery used in the advertising was designed to attract them, although for public consumption, care was taken always to refer to the young adult market. The lifestyles, motivations and aspirations of young people were continuously assessed. it was concluded that young people smoked for emotional reasons and that the branding could meet their needs by adding aspiration, coolness and ‘street cred’ to the products. This in itself was counter to the regulatory code which stipulated that cigarette ads should not suggest that smoking was associated with social success or play on susceptibilities of the emotionally vulnerable especially the young. The issue was marketing, not just advertising alone. All aspects of marketing such as price, distribution and other commercial communications such as point of sale material and direct mail were brought into play to maximize the uptake and continuance of smoking and thus to increase sales. Advertising and sponsorship became one, performing the same key task of promoting the all important brand images that appeal to young smokers and drinkers.

 – Renix Graham, III

“Water is the only drink for a wise man.” -Renix Graham, III

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