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Mongan, Deirdre (2009) Young people’s exposure to alcohol marketing. Drugnet Ireland, Issue 31, Autumn 2009, p. 17.

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The National Youth Council of Ireland (NYCI) launched the report Get ‘em young; mapping young people’s exposure to alcohol marketing in Ireland1on 9 June 2009. The aim of this project was to map (document, describe and provide examples) young people’s exposure to alcohol marketing practices and to examine whether Ireland’s stated commitment to protecting young people from the pressure to drink is reflected in the actual experience of young people.  

In 2003, the alcohol industry set up a company (Central Copy Clearance Ireland Ltd) to vet and approve all alcohol advertisements to ensure the content was in line with the voluntary code of the Advertising Standards Authority of Ireland (ASAI) and the Broadcasting Commission of Ireland (BCI) code. In 2004, the alcohol and advertising industries introduced a voluntary code of practice regarding alcohol advertising which was endorsed by the Minister for Health and Children. Under this code, no alcohol advertisements would be shown during TV and radio programmes where more than 33% of the audience was under 18 years of age. When applied to outdoor advertising, 33% of all available space could be used for alcohol advertisements, in other words, no ‘wrap rounds’ are permitted.  A revised voluntary code has been in place since mid-2008. The two main changes to the code are that the audience profile cut-off is now 25% instead of 33% and, where advertising is permitted, alcohol advertisements will be limited to 25% of the available space. While some changes have been made to the volume of alcohol marketing (supply side), no evaluation has taken place to assess whether these changes have provided any real protection for children, or what impact they have had on young people’s decision to drink and how they drink (demand side).
Sixteen young people were selected from each province through the NYCI network and invited to participate in this research. There were more males than females in the group and the majority were aged 16–17 years. Three were aged 18–19 years to ensure that a full range of venues such as pubs/nightclubs could be included in the study. Data were collected in 2007 by a team of trained young people, supervised and supported by a youth leader and an alcohol researcher. Participants were asked to collect examples of alcohol marketing practices. Full details of the marketing practices observed (place, beverage type, brand name, marketing practice and its appeal) were recorded and, where possible, examples provided.
The main findings of the research project were:
•      Sixteen communication channels that exposed young people to alcohol marketing practices were documented – the most commonly mentioned being television, magazines/newspapers, internet, street flyers, billboards and supermarkets/shops.
•      Packaging of spirits and alcopops was considered the most attractive, with the shape and colour of the bottles and the colour of the product itself the main attractive features.
•      Integrated marketing was common; two-thirds of the young people reported that they had seen the same alcohol products in a number of media channels.
•      One in every four of the alcohol marketing practices recorded involved a price promotion, such as special offers, free alcohol, volume sales and deep discounts, with street flyers and supermarkets the main channels of communication.
•      Of all the marketing practices recorded, six out of every 10 appealed to young people, with spirits, alcopops and three beer brands (Carlsberg®, Guinness® and Heineken®) having the most appeal.
•      Marketing practices that appealed to young people occurred in all communication channels. Within the broadcast media, almost two-thirds of the marketing practices were appealing. In the case of outdoor media, six out of 10 marketing practices were considered appealing by young people.
•      The elements of the alcohol marketing practices that particularly appealed to young people were humour, cleverness, cheap/free alcohol and attractiveness.
•      Eight of the top 10 most appealing alcohol marketing practices agreed by the youth researchers were television advertisements. In addition a product placement (alcohol portrayal in film) and price promotion (8 beers for €8) made the top ten list.
Alcohol marketing has an impact on youth drinking and it is clear that young people in Ireland are exposed to marketing practices which can be described as pervasive through a variety of channels and on a regular basis. One in every four of the alcohol marketing practices documented involved price promotions which young people considered very attractive. Cheap alcohol, in the form of alcohol price promotions, has been shown to increase binge drinking in young people.
Despite the pre-vetting system for all alcohol advertisements, established by the drinking industry in Ireland in 2003, young people continue to find alcohol advertisements appealing, with humour, cleverness, cheap offers of alcohol and attractiveness the most effective elements. In addition, the introduction of audience profiling for the placement of alcohol advertisements by the drinks industry does not appear to have protected young people, given the range of alcohol advertising and promotion practices that young people documented.
The report concludes that there are over one million young people under 18 years of age in Ireland. These young people need adequate protection from an unnecessary exposure to risk – marketing practices that promote alcohol, a substance that carries serious health and social risks for young people. (Deirdre Mongan)
1. National Youth Council of Ireland (2009) Get 'em young: mapping young people's exposure to alcohol marketing in Ireland. Dublin: NYCI.

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