03.Advertising: the hard sell
Every day in Australia, young people are exposed to high and increasing levels of alcohol advertising and marketing, which research shows can have an influence on teenage drinking.
91% of our taste test participants recalled seeing alcohol advertising in the past month. The most recalled advertising was for beer at 43%, followed by alcopops, 16%. Most alcohol advertising was last seen on television, 71%, followed by billboards at 56%, pubs and clubs at 49%, bottle shops at 39%, magazines at 34% and 14% on the internet.
In relation to alcohol advertising, there are two complementary industry self-regulation codes: the Australian Association of National Advertisers (AANA) Advertiser Code of Ethics (which applies to all forms of advertising) and the Alcoholic Beverages Advertising Code (ABAC).
In addition, many of the larger companies have their own marketing code of practice. The codes give guidelines for advertising with specific reference to children and adolescents, but there are some gaps — a major one being the internet.
The ABAC extends to websites owned or endorsed by alcohol beverage brands. But at present there’s no stipulation as to what kinds of third-party site are deemed acceptable for online alcohol ads. And the youth-appealing internet is a surefire way of reaching a young audience.
While alcopop producers may argue they’re exclusively aiming at the 18–25-year-old market, it’s not surprising that the marketing still manages to reach millions of impressionable young teenagers.
We found promotions for alcoholic products, including the alcopop WKD ('wicked') Original Vodka Blue, for example, alongside promos for the latest teen movies and Nancy Drew games on girl.com.au — an online girls magazine that 'addresses issues which face today’s youth'.
This is at odds with a message on the website of WKD drinks owner, Beverage Brands, which states: "The marketing of our brands is strictly targeted at the 18-plus age group."
After CHOICE contacted WKD, the item was removed from the website.
Alcopop marketing in particular draws heavily on pop-culture references and young, hip images to create a sense of identity and individual style, clearly appealing to the young, fashion-conscious consumer.
The producer of Vodka Cruiser, for example, describes its drinker as someone who 'blends in with their peer group'. You’re invited to 'get on and ride the wave with this bright, bubbly and fun brand'. And you’re assured that 'Vodka Cruiser is still the fashion RTD for the 21st Century'.
Alcopop marketing cleverly uses the knowledge that young people today choose their drinks to reflect who they are and who they want to be. As one of our female participants told us, "I think with girls, if they see another girl that’s 18 or 17 [drinking alcopops], and they’re 15 or 16, they think it’s cute ... like the bottle."