UK adland faces calls for new alcohol ad ban

A committee of MPs in the UK has rubbished claims by the drinks industry that there is no connection between alcohol advertising and increased consumption, leading to the likelihood of more pressure to ban beer, wine and spirits TV advertising altogether.

The Health Select Committee says: “The industry must acknowledge the power of its advertising messages and accept responsibility for their consequences. The industry will take a significant step down this road when it makes it clear that alcoholic products should not be marketed in ways which address audiences a significant proportion of whom are aged under 18, and cannot therefore legally purchase the product.”

In effect this means a complete ban as under-18s (to my knowledge) don’t get packed off to bed at nine o’clock with a cup of Ovaltine and a copy of The Beano any more.

It’s clearly arrant nonsense to claim, as the booze industry’s mouthpiece the Portman Group has been doing for years, that ads don’t encourage you to drink or drink more, just to switch brands. This is the old tobacco industry argument and it’s tosh. This isn’t to say that they actually succeed in persuading you to neck more booze but they’re clearly plugging what is presented as, however obliquely, a pleasurable experience.

So should such ads be banned? I’d say not because it would just be the first step towards virtual prohibition, something increasing numbers of medics (many of whom drink like fishes) are calling for although they’re not brave enough to say so in so many words.

Would the ad world end if there was such a ban? Clearly not, it rode out the ban on tobacco smoothly enough. Anyway, when did you last see a decent British booze ad?

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About Stephen Foster

Stephen is a former editor of Marketing Week and London Evening Standard advertising columnist. He wrote City Republic for Brand Republic and is a partner in communications consultancy The Editorial Partnership.