Reducing harm caused by alcohol


Q&A on alcohol marketing

Karine Gallopel-Morvan is Professor (social marketing) at the EHESP School of Public Health, Rennes, France, and Honorary Professor at the University of Stirling.

Karine was a member of the expert network on alcohol marketing which developed our report: Promoting good health from childhood. Reducing the impact of alcohol marketing on children in Scotland (pdf)

Karine G M

The alcohol industry say advertising simply promotes sales of individual brands, and there is no evidence of a link between advertising and alcohol-related harm. What evidence is there to dispute this? 

Much research has been conducted on the link between advertising and alcohol consumption. Studies have highlighted a dose-response relationship between exposure to alcohol advertising and the onset of drinking and heavier drinking among young people. Some specific forms of alcohol advertising have also been studied. For instance, researchers have shown an association between exposure to in-store ads (e.g. supermarkets) and alcohol use among young people; and exposure to alcohol advertising on websites and social networks has been shown to be positively correlated to alcohol-related perceptions and alcohol behaviors in minors.  

Why are children and young people so important when it comes to alcohol marketing?

Like for other industries (tobacco companies, food industry, etc.), children and young people represent a very important market, and they are future consumers for brands and alcohol companies.

What are some of the tactics that the alcohol industry use to target women?

Different tactics are used by the alcohol industry: sweet and flavoured tastes, "light” drinks in order to decrease calorie intake, luxury codes displayed on ads or through packaging, presence of alcohol brands in films and TV series that women like, association with female role models (Scarlett Johansson, Kim Cattrall – Sex and the City), association of alcohol brands with breast cancer charities, etc.

Are there parallels with tobacco advertising strategies?

Yes definitely. They are strong similarities with tobacco marketing strategies and with tobacco lobbying strategies  too. The aim of tobacco and of alcohol companies is to increase their market share and to fight against marketing and advertising regulations. To reach these aims, they use the same tools.

Are some forms of alcohol marketing particularly inappropriate? Or is it the overall volume of marketing which matters?

The key element to increase the effectiveness of advertising and marketing in general is repetition: the more people are exposed to ads, the more effective ads are on brand recall, positive brand perceptions and behaviours. As a consequence, a “360 degree marketing campaign” is a very effective way to reach consumers wherever they are through a wide range of media: television, mobile, social networks, radio, product placement in films, outdoor ads, banners in shops, etc. Beyond repetition, advertising content is also important for alcohol companies to increase the image and the attractiveness of their brands.

Are there successful examples of restrictions on alcohol marketing in other countries? How successful has the loi Évin been?

Countries which have implemented restrictions on alcohol marketing include France, Finland and Estonia. The loi Évin that was voted in France in 1991 contained three core measures.

  • The first prohibits alcohol advertising through media targeted at young people, but other less intrusive media are allowed.
  • The second measure controls advertising content in authorized situations: product information must only contain factual/informative data and objective qualities (e.g., proof, origin, composition and means of production).
  • The third measure requires the health warning ‘alcohol abuse is dangerous for health’ to appear on all alcohol advertisements.

Since 1991, this law has been constantly attacked and weakened by active lobbying from alcohol producers and retailers: for example, billboard advertising that was initially banned was permitted in 1994. In 2009, a law allowed online alcohol advertising (with the exception of sport websites and websites targeting young people) and in 2015, the loi Évin was weakened once again following intense lobbying from wine producers. In addition and since 1991, legal procedures have regularly condemned illegal alcohol ads that do not respect the loi Évin: up until 2015, the French NGO ANPAA won over 80% of its 60 prosecutions brought to court. As a consequence, the 2017 version of the French Évin law does not appear effectively to protect young people from exposure to alcohol advertising in France, as a recent research conducted in France on students revealed.

What steps should Scotland take to protect children and young people from alcohol marketing?

The 1991 version of the Évin law is obviously more effective than the current version for protecting young people from exposure to alcohol ads. If Scotland wants to learn from the French experience, I recommend to base their future policies on the 1991 version of the law. Scotland must also be prepared to counteract lobbying from the alcohol industry aimed at weakening alcohol control policies and marketing regulations.