How much alcohol advertising do children see on TV?

By Rachel Arthur

- Last updated on GMT

How many alcohol adverts are children exposed to? Pic: getty/chrisstein
How many alcohol adverts are children exposed to? Pic: getty/chrisstein

Related tags Alcohol Advertising

Alcohol adverts should not be shown alongside programs that appeal particularly to children. But how many alcohol adverts do children end up seeing?

The latest report from the UK's advertising watchdog, the Advertising Standards Authority (ASA), indicates that children’s exposure to alcohol adverts on TV is decreasing: continuing a trend seen over recent years.

In fact, between 2010 and 2023, children’s exposure to alcohol advertising on TV decreased by four fifths.

However, the figures are influenced by the fact that children are seeing fewer adverts on TV overall, given the proliferation of other platforms available to them (in the same period, children’s exposure to all TV ads fell by three quarters).

Dramatic reduction since 2010

In the UK, the ASA says that adverts for alcohol cannot be scheduled around programs commissioned for, principally directed at or likely to appeal particularly to children.

In the US, guidance says alcohol brands should only place adverts where at least 71.6% of the audience is reasonably expected to be 21 or older.

Adverts themselves cannot be of strong appeal to people under-18: for example by featuring characters or imagery that reference youth culture (a fine line that has proven problematic for some brands​).

In fact, the ASA advises that – to be on the safe side – characters should not appear to be under the age of 25 (in the same way as the UK encourages a ‘Challenge 25 policy’, where retailers and bartenders are encouraged to ID anyone under 25 despite a legal drinking age of 18 years old).

And adverts cannot link drinking to romantic, social or financial success, or promote antisocial or dangerous behaviors.

And this guidance appears to be working. The ASA’s data shows that children’s exposure to alcohol advertising on TV has reduced from an average of 3.2 ads per week in 2010, to 0.7 ads per week in 2023.

Exposure to alcohol TV ads was broadly consistent across the nations, ranging from 1.2 ads per week in Northern Ireland to 0.7 ads per week in England, Scotland, and Wales.

The average number of alcohol ads children saw in 2022 (0.7 per week) reached the lowest level in the 14-year period covered. Exposure to alcohol ads has remained at similar levels for the past five years.

To put these figures into context, children see - on average - around one alcohol ad on TV for every six seen by adults.

Or, if exposure is compared to adverts for toys, children see 5.3 adverts a week for toys compared to the 0.7 ads per week for alcohol.

The majority of TV alcohol ads that children did see were for beer, cider and perry. This was followed by spirits and liqueur and then wine.

HFSS advertising

The ASA has also started to track children’s exposure to HFSS (high fat sugar and salt): a category which includes (but is not limited to) soda, energy drinks and other sugary drinks.

Between 2016 and 2023, children’s exposure to HFSS product advertising on TV reduced from an average of 12.4 ads per week in 2016 to 4.4 ads per week in 2023.

Children saw, on average, around one TV ad for HFSS products for every five seen by adults in 2023.

Across the nations in 2023, children’s exposure to HFSS TV ads ranged from 3.8 ads per week in Northern Ireland to 5.3 ads per week in Scotland.

“While the continued decline in children’s exposure to age-restricted TV ads is encouraging, we know that a lot of that is down to changing media habits, which is why we are also continuing to conduct proactive project work looking at what ads they are seeing online,” notes the ASA. “Projects like Exposure Reports, our proactive monitoring sweeps​ using world-leading Avatar technology, and the cutting-edge 100 Children Report,​ help us ensure that our regulation is thorough and effective in providing appropriate protections for children.”

The Portman Group - the UK alcohol industry's self-regulator for alcohol marketing - has recently published a guide on how brands can ensure their adverts don't appeal to children.

In Ireland, the government has decided it will ban alcohol advertising on TV entirely before 9pm​, in an effort to reduce children's exposure to alcohol products.

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