The power of branding and its impact on children’s health
There have been renewed calls from health campaigners to limit alcohol advertisements after a recent survey conducted by health charity Alcohol Concern found that children were more familiar with brands such as Fosters, Smirnoff and WKD than with popular snacks such as Walkers and Mr Kipling.
The alarming results of the Children’s Recognition of Alcohol Marketing survey have led to calls for stricter rules concerning alcohol promotion to reduce the likelihood of children starting to drink from earlier ages.
It is difficult to say that children easily recognising the brands will always lead to alcohol abuse later on. Whilst the survey has been criticised by leading figures within the drinks industry who point to consistent studies that highlight a drop in illegal alcohol consumption by under 18s, it is likely that children and young people will continue to see alcohol as the most popular way to unwind and have fun, not only because of ubiquitous alcohol commercials that tell them this, but also thanks to the binge-drinking culture that affects our major towns and cities.
If alcohol branding is to be reined in to counter any negative effects it is having on children, this should be counter-balanced with new campaigns emphasising that drinking can be both fun and sociable in the way that the adverts portray, but only when carried out with responsibility and in moderation.
Some may argue that many adults – let alone younger people – would do well to take this message on board. Alcohol charities argue that a lack of proper regulation has led to children being bombarded with fun, memorable drinking adverts, encouraging them to take up the habit earlier in life and increasing their chances of becoming addicted.
They call for much stricter regulation perhaps leading to an outright ban on advertising similar to the one imposed on tobacco companies.
This has been criticised by figures in the alcohol industry who point to countries like France that have much stricter rules concerning alcohol branding but still face higher levels of underage alcohol abuse. Banning booze advertisements in the UK, they say, would have little to no effect.
If comparing our drinking habits to those of our European neighbours, it is worth considering that despite France’s high levels of underage alcohol usage, binge-drinking amongst adults is far less prevalent than in Britain, despite alcohol being more widely available there.
Visitors to the continent are often surprised to find beer and wine for sale in bakeries, gift shops and even pharmacies without witnessing anywhere near the same level of booze-fuelled debauchery that takes place regularly in the UK.
Does this show that the troubling results of Alcohol Concern’s survey may be down to something more than the popularity of Foster’s adverts amongst younger people, and that our status as a nation of hardened drinkers may be more to blame?
This question needs answering if we are to ensure children adopt a respectful and moderate attitude to alcohol and other potentially harmful brands that appeal to them. The NHS is in crisis and ill-equipped to deal with problems brought on by young people living unhealthy lifestyles, so the effect of branding on children’s health should always be regarded with very careful scrutiny.