Australian alcohol advertising code in need of ‘thorough review’ for failing to protect teens

By Tingmin Koe

- Last updated on GMT

 The study shows that the appeal of advertisements was associated with intentions to consume and purchase products. ©GettyImages
The study shows that the appeal of advertisements was associated with intentions to consume and purchase products. ©GettyImages
Current alcohol advertising regulations in Australia are failing to protect the health and well-being of adolescents, with academics claiming that it is leading to an environment that is ‘not consistent with the responsible marketing spirit’.

Australia’s alcohol advertising code requires advert actors to be at least 25 years old, and clearly portrayed as adults.

However, a study has shown that although advert actors fulfil the age requirement, they were often perceived to be younger than 25, and thought to be marketing alcohol products to adolescents.

A total of 351 Australian youths aged 16 to 19 took part in the study conducted by Curtin University, The University of New South Wales, National Drug and Alcohol Research Centre and Monash University.

More than half (55%) perceived the actors to be “always” or “usually” appearing to be under 25.

Another 21% thought the actors “sometimes” appeared to be under 25.

The youths were shown advertisements that adhered to the Alcohol Beverages Advertising Code.

Sixty-eight of them further proceeded with an in-depth quantitative and qualitative interview on six alcohol product advertisements, including liqueur, apple cider, beer, wine, and whisky.

Targeted at 18 and younger?

From the responses, it was found that the liqueur advertisement had the highest level of misperception, with 94% perceiving actors to be under 25.

One in three (30%) even thought that it was marketed at adolescents younger than 18.

The apple cider and beer advertisements were also perceived to be targeted at youths under 25, with the percentage standing at 40% and nearly 25% respectively.

Effects on buying decision

The qualitative study further found that the appeal of advertisements was associated with intentions to consume and purchase advertised products.

For instance, 44.1% found the liqueur advertisement appealing, with 34.3% and 34.9% said that they would want to try or purchase liqueur.  

The tendency to buy the product was greater for participants aged 16 to 17.

44.8% found the advertisement appealing and almost all of them (42.9%) said that they would want to buy the product.

The appeal of the product was linked to its perceived ability to enhance mood and social success.

Future research

This study is thought to be the first to gather responses on alcohol advertisements from youths directly.

Researchers said that it is in line with previous research that relied on public health experts’ and researchers’ assessment of advertisements, which showed that voluntary industry-managed codes are frequently breached.

However, researchers acknowledged their sample was purposely selected from the heaviest alcohol users, and is not representative of the general population of 16–19-year-olds.

The researchers concluded: “While we cannot comment on the intended messages of these advertisements, it is clear that what is being perceived by these young people is not consistent with the ‘responsible’ marketing spirit of alcohol advertising codes.”

“The results of this study provide further impetus for a thorough review and revision of alcohol advertising codes and processes of adjudication, as has been recommended by experts and government bodies internationally.”

“Current industry-regulated systems are not adequately protecting children and adolescents from exposure to or the influence of alcohol marketing. Advertisements strongly appealing to children or adolescents should be considered in breach of advertising codes, regardless of whether they also appeal to adults.”

Source: Australian and New Zealand Journal of Public Health

doi: 10.1111/1753-6405.12792

“Youth Perceptions of Alcohol Advertising: Are Current Advertising Regulations Working?”

Authors: Alexandra Aiken, et al

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