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by Kieran Healey-Ryder, Scottish Alcohol Industry Partnership
30 March 2023
Associate Feature: Calling on Scottish Government for a measured approach to alcohol advertising

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Associate Feature: Calling on Scottish Government for a measured approach to alcohol advertising

The Scottish Government’s consultation on restricting alcohol advertising and promotion has caused deep concern within the alcohol and hospitality industry.  An industry at the heart of our nation’s economy at home, and the brand Scotland we are building internationally. It essentially asks should we ban alcohol advertising yes or no?  Whether that be a drinks mat, key ring, billboard or TV advert.

Businesses simply cannot survive without being able to develop and market their brands.  Especially smaller companies who are aiming to grow their brands and business it could impact their viability.

Restricting the market risks freezing the market. Established brands will have some existing consumer recognition to fall back on though that will diminish over time. Smaller brands and those new to market will have little chance to develop and grow. It would be impossible for new entrants to enter the market so this inevitably limits consumer choice and stifles innovation.  Ultimately, if brands are unable to tell their story, communicate their values, heritage, provenance or unique qualities, this leads them to compete on price alone.  

Alcohol advertising is already heavily regulated, with an effective rule-based system operated by established bodies Ofcom, the Advertising Standards Authority, and the Portman Group. Working together they regulate alcohol advertising across all media from TV and outdoor to websites and social media, plus sponsorship. Alcohol can only be promoted in a socially responsible manner and only to those aged over 18. No producer can imply, condone, or encourage immoderate, irresponsible, or anti-social drinking, and there are no alcohol ads on billboards near schools.

Also, consumer trends in Scotland have changed and continue to change. A greater proportion of Scots drink in moderation Over three quarters of Scots (77%) either do not drink or drink within 14 units. There have been sizable falls in binge drinking, drink driving, alcohol related crimes and underage alcohol consumption seen over the past two decades. Alcohol-related hospital admissions have also been declining since 2007, but this consultation and focus on marketing will do nothing to support those drinking at the very highest levels, where we have tragically seen over 20% increase in alcohol related deaths post the pandemic. 

Research from the think tank, Credos, found alcohol advertising spend has outpaced total alcohol sales since 2011, clearly demonstrating the amount of alcohol advertising has no direct relationship to the amount of alcohol purchased. Instead, advertising is being used to differentiate products in a crowded market.  Secondly, alcohol advertising spend appears to have an inverse relationship with alcohol harm, including underage drinking. While advertising spend has increased over the past 20 years, harms have decreased in contrast. Further restrictions on advertising are therefore unlikely to deliver expected public health gains but they will damage the industry and impact many other sectors that it supports.

There is more to do of course, to educate consumers about the low-risk alcohol guidelines, to eliminate underage drinking, and to provide targeted support and treatment to those who need it.

That is what we should focus on. The proposals contained in this consultation, described by some as “absurd”, take focus away from shared goals across the spectrum, from government to producers.  

‘Everything in moderation’ – something we are all taught, and important when considering alcohol consumption. The Scottish government’s consultation, in current form, could do with a dose of it.  


This article is sponsored by the Scottish Alcohol Industry Partnership.

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