Yet again, the marketing industry has been forced into a defensive
position by suggestions that alcohol advertising and packaging should
carry health warnings. Not to react to such calls would be
Yet to argue against them carries the danger that the industry could be
seen as 'anti-health' rather than 'anti-regulation'.
ISBA is quite correct in damning such proposals as "pointless" and
"unlikely to work", but its comments are unlikely to find a sympathetic
ear among pressure groups that believe advertising is the root of all
Advertising has become the soft target for pressure groups involved in
sectors where excess consumption can cause health problems. Their case
has been helped by politicians, who are often far more comfortable
gaining publicity by attacking advertising than losing popularity by
proposing an outright ban on a product. Isn't it time for these critics
to cease the slurs and provide the proof?
Advertising bans and restrictions for alcoholic drinks are in force in
several European countries, and have been for years. At best for the
critics, the figures on consumption and health for those countries send
out a mixed message. In some instances, the restriction on advertising
has been accompanied by an unfortunate increase in total
Figures on consumption and alcohol-related harm are widely available
through the World Health Organisation Europe's Alcohol Drugs and Tobacco
Unit. While no objective study on advertising and alcohol consumption
has been carried out, the evidence of some countries does not support
the anti-advertising argument.
In Sweden, Denmark and Finland, which all have near-total bans on
advertising alcoholic drinks, recorded consumption of alcohol has
remained stable or has increased over the period 1980 to 1995. In
France, which also enforces tight regulation on alcohol ads, recorded
consumption and alcohol-related deaths have fallen steadily from a much
higher base over the same period. If there were any shred of evidence
from those four countries for the would-be regulators to cling to it
would be France's performance. Yet the UK's consumption has also
remained stable over the same period, according to the WHO.
The fact that a voluntary code advertising of alcoholic products works
should come as no surprise. A multi-faceted approach to responsible
advertising, involving the ITC, Radio Authority, ASA and drinks industry
body the Portman Group has been effective in ensuring that ads do not
encourage excess or underage drinking.
Ads maintain or increase market share against rival drinks brands,
rather than increase overall consumption. It's a simple business truth,
but one that some evidently still need to hear.