Thoughts 28.05.13

Children’s exposure to alcohol advertising

Following on from Ofcom’s latest report into young people’s exposure to alcohol advertising, Ryan Newey contemplates the potential knock on effects and how exposure in itself is not problematic.

Having created ads for a number of alcohol brands over the last few years – most recently with Somersby Cider – I met Ofcom’s latest report into young people’s exposure to alcohol advertising with some intrigue. Published a few days ago, the report looks at how the amount of advertising seen by this demographic has changed and considers this in the context of changes in viewing habits and the volume of advertising shown on commercial television channels. The general thrust of the report is that children now have access to more television channels, which means more advertising spots, which means more alcohol advertising – increasing from 418,000 in 2007 to 659,000 in 2011. They’re also watching more ‘adult’ programmes on more ‘adult’ channels later into the night than they used to. Subsequently, children aged 4-15 were seeing 3.2 alcohol ads a week in 2011 rather than the 2.7 alcohol ads they were seeing in 2007. Whilst the results are not necessarily groundbreaking, they certainly do raise some interesting points.

The first point is that the notion of children encountering alcohol advertising doesn’t have to be problematic. If it’s championing revelry and excess then it’s at risk of being so, but tight regulation has already made that impossible. However, if it presents good values then these are not damaging to present. Exposure in itself is not a problem, it’s the nature of the exposure that is. You only have to look to Southern Europe to find proof that just because children are exposed to alcohol from an early age, it doesn’t mean they’re destined for alcoholism. It’s well–known that the attitude towards alcohol there is much less excessive than it is in the UK and a huge part of that is down to alcohol’s place in their culture – something advertising can have an effect on.

The second point is that ultimately we have little power over who watches what, and when. Whilst the 9pm watershed indicates a more adult viewership, it’s inevitable that some children will be watching. The question is, where does the responsibility for this lie? With alcohol advertising already so heavily regulated, further regulation or restriction on media buying would mean alcohol brands would soon have a very tight window with which to advertise to their target market. In the wake of the report, Ofcom have now asked the ASA to review the rules placed on alcohol brands in TV advertising which begs the question, if regulation was to become tougher, then where do we draw the line? Should all high calorie foods and drinks be regulated more heavily to combat childhood obesity? Should McDonalds ads only be shown after 9pm?

If the concern is that young minds are impressionable, as an industry we should see it as our responsibility to implant good values into alcohol advertising. Introduce further regulation though, and not only would we take an economic hit, we could take a cultural one as well.