Home > Awareness of alcohol marketing one year after initial implementation of Ireland’s Public Health (Alcohol) Act and during the Covid-19 pandemic.

Doyle, Anne (2022) Awareness of alcohol marketing one year after initial implementation of Ireland’s Public Health (Alcohol) Act and during the Covid-19 pandemic. Drugnet Ireland, Issue 80, Winter 2022, 21 p..

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Following a protracted process, the Public Health (Alcohol) Act was signed into law in October 2018. The Act introduced new controls on alcohol marketing (which commenced in November 2019) with restrictions on some outdoor and cinema advertising as well as a ban on public transport advertising. Widespread evidence indicates that exposure to alcohol marketing is causally linked to consumption, including higher-risk drinking; however, to date, much of the research has focused on younger people. There is comparatively less understanding about the reach and impact of marketing on adults, including vulnerable groups. There is also a lack of consumer research examining the impact that legislation has on marketing awareness and the association with consumption.

A 2021 study by Critchlow and Moodie examined marketing awareness using repeat cross-sectional surveys in two waves.1 Wave 1 was carried out in October 2019 one year after the initial implementation but before the restrictions were commenced, and wave 2 in October 2020. As well as examining the impact that marketing controls implemented in November 2019 had on marketing awareness among adult consumers, the study also examined the impact of the Covid-19 pandemic on alcohol marketing awareness. The authors also examined whether alcohol marketing awareness is associated with higher-risk alcohol consumption. Alcohol use – measured as frequency of consumption, standard drinks consumed on a typical drinking occasion, and frequency of heavy episodic drinking (HED) – was recorded through the Alcohol Use Disorders Identification Test-Concise (AUDIT-C).

Changes in alcohol consumption

The study found no difference between waves for the proportion of participants who were current drinkers, the proportion of current drinkers who reported at least monthly HED, and the proportion of drinkers categorised as higher risk.

Changes in where alcohol marketing was seen

When recalling where alcohol marketing was seen in the past month, respondents’ awareness decreased from 94.1% in wave 1 participants to 93.8% in wave 2 participants, for nine of the 13 marketing activities measured, albeit with small effect sizes. These decreases included activities at least partly restricted in November 2019. They included:

  • Awareness of alcohol marketing on public transport decreased from 65% in wave 1 to 55% in wave 2.
  • Awareness of marketing through posters and billboards decreased from 77% to 69% between waves.
  • Awareness of alcohol marketing in the cinema decreased from 37% to 27%.
  • No change was observed for catch-up or streaming services, social media, special price offers, and branded merchandise.

Changes in how often alcohol marketing was seen

When recalling how often alcohol marketing was seen in the past month, there was a significant decrease in aggregate past-month awareness between wave 1 and wave 2. However, again, the effect sizes were small. As with recalling where alcohol marketing was observed, the decrease in frequency of alcohol marketing was observed in nine of the 13 activities measured at both waves. Awareness was lower in 2020 compared with 2019 in public transport, posters and billboards, and cinema. No change was observed for catch-up or streaming services, social media, radio, and branded merchandise.

However, awareness of alcohol marketing remained high, with the majority of participants recalling at least one form of alcohol marketing; at least one-half reported seeing 74 or more instances in the past month.

Association between alcohol marketing and consumption

Among current drinkers, there was an association between marketing awareness and higher-risk drinking across waves. In particular, current drinkers who reported medium or high past-month awareness were more likely to report at least monthly HED than current drinkers reporting low awareness.


This study found that overall awareness and frequency of marketing activities subject to new restrictions from November 2019 decreased.

The Covid-19 pandemic had an impact in reducing where and how often respondents recalled alcohol marketing in activities that were not subject to new legislative restrictions. This decrease was evident in marketing awareness during sporting events, as the pandemic led to cancellations and limited or no spectators. Other activities, such as adverts on catch-up and streaming services or social media, saw no decrease, which was expected as they are viewed within the home. These findings highlight how alcohol marketing was still able to reach consumers during the pandemic and may also partially explain the sustained levels of alcohol consumption throughout the pandemic found in this study.

Despite the overall reduction in awareness and frequency of alcohol marketing reported at both waves, at least one-half of the participants reported seeing marketing 2–3 times per day or more in the past month; over nine out of 10 participants recalled seeing at least one form of marketing at wave 2; and increased awareness was associated with at least monthly HED and higher-risk drinking. These trends are consistent with research that suggests adults are important targets for alcohol marketing. They also support Ireland’s approach for introducing measures that reduce population-level exposure to marketing as well as targeted restrictions among young people.

The authors recommend a precautionary interpretation of the findings, as the initial controls and the Covid-19 restrictions likely contributed to decreases in awareness. Despite the limitations, this is the first study to examine awareness of alcohol marketing before and after the introduction of the new legislation and how the pandemic influenced alcohol marketing awareness among adults. It thus contributes new evidence about adults’ experience of alcohol marketing.

1 Critchlow N and Moodie C (2021) Awareness of alcohol marketing one year after initial implementation of Ireland’s Public Health (Alcohol) Act and during the COVID-19 pandemic. J Public Health, Early online. https://www.drugsandalcohol.ie/34954/

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