Drug Education News

News and views from the Drug Education Forum

Alcohol advertising self-regulation not working

Compare and contrast.

Addiction Journal:

Addiction scientists are calling for tighter regulation of alcohol advertising, as new research shows that self-regulation by the alcohol industry does not protect impressionable children and youth from exposure.

The ASA’s last annual report:

Evidence to date suggests that the current rules are a proportionate response to concerns about under-age drinking and they are being applied effectively. However, there is still work to do to limit the appeal of some alcohol ads to young people and the ASA continues to take these factors into account when assessing complaints.

It’s important to note that the research that leads for calls for tighter regulation took place in Australia and so I’m not sure whether the people who are calling for change are thinking about the UK’s regulatory regieme as being in the same league as what they found in Australia.

However, some of what they are proposing goes well beyond where the ASA appear to be contemplating.  These are the sorts of thing they say they want to see:

banning alcohol advertising during live sports programming; further restricting the times at which alcohol adverts can be broadcast; and banning animals and animal characters from alcohol advertising, with carefully controlled exceptions where an animal has traditionally been part of the brand’s logo.

Filed under: advertising, alcohol

Low-Key Anti-Smoking Ads Are More Likely to Be Remembered than Attention-Grabbing Messages

The Drug Education Forum is interested in the impact of public health messages, as the evidence suggests that well planned public health campaigns add value to drug education in schools and other settings.

So, while this research isn’t about young people specifically it is interesting.

Televised PSAs [public service announcements] are an important element of campaigns that promote smoking cessation, drug abuse prevention, and other public health causes. Some PSAs take a low-key, “just the facts” approach to conveying their message, while others use attention-grabbing features such as fast pacing with frequent cuts, dramatic narration, bright colors, loud music, and shocking or surprising visual images. This study found that regions of the brain associated with attention (the frontal cortex) and memory (the temporal cortex) were more active when participants were watching the low-key PSAs compared to the more dramatic attention-grabbing PSAs.

You may remember that when NICE looked at this issue they decided that “vivid” communications which elicit fear was evidenced enough for them to be able recommend them.

Perhaps this research should give them pause for thought.

You can find the accademic paper here.

Filed under: advertising, research

ASA Annual Report 2009

asaThe Advertising Standards Authority’s annual report says that alcohol advertising is increasingly compliant with their rules.  However, they say:

there is no room for complacency. As well as showing a decline in the proportion of young people feeling that alcohol ads are aimed at them, the joint ASA/Ofcom research conducted last year also revealed that young people believed some of the edgier ads made drinks look more appealing and would encourage people to drink.

This is why we aim routinely to engage with all key stakeholders and gauge opinion on the effectiveness of the rules and the way we perform our core function of keeping advertising standards high.

They go on to say:

Evidence to date suggests that the current rules are a proportionate response to concerns about under-age drinking and they are being applied effectively. However, there is still work to do to limit the appeal of some alcohol ads to young people and the ASA continues to take these factors into account when assessing complaints.

Filed under: advertising

Does marketing communication impact on the volume and patterns of consumption of alcoholic beverages, especially by young people?

The Science Group of the European Alcohol and Health Forum have produced a paper looking at what existing longitudinal studies have to say about the impact of marketing on young people’s drinking.

Perhaps unsurprisingly they conclude that there is a link, however, in terms of the impact they say:

Although the findings confirm an impact of some forms of alcohol marketing on drinking onset, frequency and quantity of alcohol consumed, and on alcohol problems, the size of the impact, even though statistically significant, is, on average, not large.

They point out a number of limitations in the studies they have to work with.

  1. Studying a range of markting strategies.
  2. The majority were done in the USA where the legal drinking age is 21 years.
  3. Lack of analysis of the quality of the advertising.
  4. Studying marketing communication in isolation to other activity – for example price or physical availability.

Despite these limitations the authors argue:

the overall description of the studies found consistent evidence to demonstrate an impact of alcohol advertising on the uptake of drinking among non-drinking young people, and increased consumption among their drinking peers.

Download the paper here.

Filed under: advertising, alcohol

The effect of alcohol advertising, marketing and portrayal on drinking behaviour in young people: systematic review of prospective cohort studies.

The AERC have a new paper looking at the influence of of alcohol marketing and advertising on the drinking behaviour of young people.

They have carried out a systematic review of seven cohort studies on over 13,000 participants which they argue:

shows some evidence for an association between prior alcohol advertising and marketing exposure and subsequent alcohol drinking behaviour in young people. All seven studies demonstrated significant effects across a range of different exposure variables and outcome measures.

Filed under: advertising, alcohol

Research – Young People and the Media

bjdpTwo pieces of research for you from the British Journal of Developmental Psychology, via the Research Digest blog.

First up the abstract of Television alcohol advertising: Do children really mean what they say?:

Few studies have investigated children’s responses to television alcohol advertising. Two separate studies evaluated the appeal of alcohol advertisements on children aged 7-10. An exploratory interview study (N=17) was carried out to assess children’s verbal responses to both alcohol and non-alcohol advertisements and to elicit vocabulary to be used in the second study. Whilst the 7-8 years old children were very positive about the alcohol advertisements, older children did not like them, nor did they perceive them to be effective. The second study was designed to assess children’s implicit knowledge, in view of developmental theory that knowledge is not always available for verbal report. This study (N=179) used a simple categorization programme on computer. Using this methodology, children of all ages liked the alcohol advertisements and perceived them as effective. Advertising styles affected popularity with humour, cartoon format or the inclusion of an animal, or character increasing the appeal of an advertisement. The discussion draws attention to the importance of multiple methodologies in eliciting valid and accurate information from children, and to policy matters with regard to alcohol advertising regulation.

See also this earlier research which suggests the format of adverts can be particularly attractive to young people.

Second, and slightly tangentially, Young children’s ability to recognize advertisements in web page designs:

Identifying what is, and what is not an advertisement is the first step in realizing that an advertisement is a marketing message. Children can distinguish television advertisements from programmes by about 5 years of age. Although previous researchers have investigated television advertising, little attention has been given to advertisements in other media, even though other media, especially the Internet, have become important channels of marketing to children. We showed children printed copies of invented web pages that included advertisements, half of which had price information, and asked the children to point to whatever they thought was an advertisement. In two experiments we tested a total of 401 children, aged 6, 8, 10 and 12 years of age, from the United Kingdom and Indonesia. Six-year-olds recognized a quarter of the advertisements, 8-year-olds recognized half the advertisements, and the 10- and 12-year-olds recognized about three-quarters. Only the 10- and 12-year-olds were more likely to identify an advertisement when it included a price. We contrast our findings with previous results about the identification of television advertising, and discuss why children were poorer at recognizing web page advertisements. The performance of the children has implications for theories about how children develop an understanding of advertising.

I raise the latter article because we have seen other research that says that the amount of alcohol advertising young people see can be correlated to their drinking behaviour (see also here).  We’ve also seen research that suggests that young people understanding marketing could have a positive impact particularly around tobacco.

Filed under: advertising, media

The Brain Crasher Party

The government’s public health campaign, Frank, have a new advert aimed at 11-18 year olds.

The Guardian in their coverage say:

While it is not the first anti-cannabis advert to appear on British television, it is the first to specifically target 11-14 year-old “dabblers and contemplaters”, children considering smoking the drug without awareness of any consequent problems. It is also aimed at slightly older peers who may have already tried the drug.

They go on to review the advert which I’ve embedded (above) saying:

no one is expecting Jamesian subtlety in a 40-second government health ad – but neon signs above people’s heads? Really? Sometimes you just gotta love the government for trying. But alas, suggestion and allusion aren’t optional extras in successful advertising – they are its defining feature…

The result is a dismal, deadening literalness that I suspect won’t even cause its target demographic to lift an eyebrow, never mind a phone.

Filed under: advertising, cannabis, Frank

‘Child smoking’ ad escapes ban

The Guardian report that the ASA has cleared a recent Department of Health anti-smoking advert:

The advertising watchdog has cleared an anti-smoking campaign that featured children pretending to smoke – despite more than 200 complaints.

A series of TV and cinema adverts for the Department of Health, created by ad agency MCBD, featured young children mimicking the habits of their parents, including pretending to smoke…

The ASA cleared the TV and cinema ad campaign, stating that it did not “consider that seeing the ads was likely to be a determining factor in children becoming smokers in the future”.

You can read the ASA’s judgement here.  You can see an example of the adverts here.

Filed under: advertising, Government, tobacco

What impacts on young people’s smoking?

The Cumberland News carries a story about a film going into primary schools in Cumbria:

John Miller’s film may become part of the National Curriculum if it is as successful as his presentations in Cumbrian schools.

He started smoking at the age of seven and had to have a tracheotomy after a habit which lasted 46 years.

His graphic talk is aimed at shocking children away from the lure of cigarettes, leave a lasting impression among nine to 11-year-olds in and around his hometown of Aspatria.

Apparently the film has been sent to the DCSF and will be available for download from the University of Cumbria’s website as their media department helped make it.

What they might not have done is look at the evidence for “vivid communications” which isn’t perhaps as strong as the makers, teachers (or children) suspect it will be.  To remind ourselves, the review for NICE found UK research which says:

In terms of fear appeals ads, interviewees did not see themselves as targets of these messages and, as a consequence, did not feel it necessary to respond to these threats. In terms of social norms ads, many interviewees said that the advertisements spoke to them at their level and were realistic in terms of social pressure without preaching or telling them what to do.

Meanwhile Cancer Research UK point to some new research they commissioned from the University of Stirling, which they say:

reveal that the more cigarette brands young people can name, the more likely they are to smoke. In fact, for every cigarette brand a young person can recall having seen at the point of sale their chance of smoking increases by 35 per cent.

Cancer UK are calling on the government regulate where tobacco products are displayed (or rather they’d like them not to be displayed) in shops.

What this research from the USA seems to show is that it may also be a good idea to use school drug education lessons to help young people understand what advertising may be doing to their behaviour.  The authors of the study say:

Smoking media literacy [SML] can be measured with excellent reliability and concurrent criterion validity. Given the independent association between SML and smoking, media literacy may be a promising tool for future tobacco control interventions.

What I do think is that this approach, of empowering children and young people, seems more likely to have long term effects than shocking videos, however well intentioned they are.

Filed under: advertising, tobacco

The Evidence for Vivid Communication

Following up on what NICE said in their response to the Forum’s submission on preventing young people from taking up smoking I thought I should look at what evidence they’ve found for “vivid communication”.

I’m not quite sure what the NICE team mean by vivid, but let’s hope it’s not the same as fear based as as that doesn’t seem to be as effective as other forms of advertising.

The paper they’ve put together has this to say:

In a review (+) examining the effects of anti-smoking advertising on teenagers, Wakefield and colleagues suggest that although there is some research to suggest that graphic health effects ads, social normative ads, and tobacco industry manipulation ads can positively influence teenagers (increased knowledge about the harms of smoking, lower intentions to smoke and lower perceived prevalence of smoking), the findings are far from consistent (Wakefield et al. 2003). Their review suggests that shock/ fear messaging as well as normative messaging is associated with an increased intention not to smoke, while tobacco industry manipulation ads require a sophisticated target audience in order to be effective.

Another international review found that:

ads that portray health effects can be effective, but they must engage viewers emotionally. Ads that include social disapproval, or refusal skills can also be effective with youth, but have mostly been studied in controlled community settings. The results of one social approval/refusal skills ad campaign included in the review was found to be ineffective when implemented on a large scale, but effective when tested in community trials.

They point to a UK based piece of research which found:

In terms of fear appeals ads, interviewees did not see themselves as targets of these messages and, as a consequence, did not feel it necessary to respond to these threats. In terms of social norms ads, many interviewees said that the advertisements spoke to them at their level and were realistic in terms of social pressure without preaching or telling them what to do. Actors that were slightly older than the target audience also were more effective. In terms of industry manipulation ads, many respondents found them attractive, slick, and sophisticated; however many rejected the idea that the industry might be manipulating their own behaviour by encouraging them to smoke or to smoke certain brands. Using a qualitative research design, the authors concluded that no single anti-smoking message appeal is likely to have universal appeal and that young people’s responses to message appeals are mediated by the values they attach to smoking.

Filed under: advertising, NICE, tobacco,

About this blog

This blog tries to pick up relevant media and research stories about drug education. It mainly focuses on information in England as this is the geographical remit for the Drug Education Forum. We welcome comments that are on topic.

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July 2021