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Study calls for ‘cross-border’ alcohol marketing rules

A new report from the World Health Organization is urging governments to apply wide-ranging restrictions or bans on alcohol marketing.

Social media alcohol marketing
Social media plays a key role in alcohol marketing, the World Health Organization said

The new report, Reducing the harm from alcohol – by regulating cross-border alcohol marketing, advertising and promotion, is the first from the World Health Organization (WHO) that looks at how alcohol is being marketed across national borders.

It claimed young people and heavy drinkers were being increasingly targeted by alcohol advertising, with ‘sophisticated’ online marketing become more prevalent.

The report said the collection and analysis of data on users’ habits and preferences by global internet providers has led to ‘new and growing opportunities for alcohol marketers to target messages to specific groups across national borders’.

The report cited Ad Age data that found that more than 70% of media spend by leading US alcohol marketers in 2019 was through promotions, product placement and online advertisements on social media.

As a result of the increasing ‘cross-border’ nature of alcohol marketing, the WHO said more collaboration is needed between countries to effectively regulate marketing of alcoholic beverages.

The study also suggested that the lack of regulations to address cross-border alcohol marketing was of ‘particular concern’ for children and youths, women and heavy drinkers.

The report claimed the countries that have restraints on alcohol marketing ‘tend to be relatively weak’, citing the organisation’s study from 2018, which found nearly half of these markets have no alcohol marketing regulations for the internet (48%) and social media (47%).

The report said governments had no specific regulation of digital alcohol marketing in 66% of countries, with partial limits in 17% and a ban in 18%.

The WHO recommended that national governments should incorporate ‘comprehensive’ restrictions or bans on alcohol marketing as part of public health strategies.

‘Effective digital safeguards’

In response to the report, the International Alliance for Responsible Drinking (IARD), which represents 13 alcohol companies, said it was committed to eradicating alcohol advertising to minors.

Last year, the group released a series of educational videos explaining how producers can prevent minors from seeing alcohol-related content on platforms.

The IARD’s chief executive Henry Ashworth said: “We are uniquely placed as experts in marketing and advertising to leverage our networks and make best use of technological innovation to ensure that the most effective and targeted safeguards are implemented to support the reductions in underage and binge drinking seen in many parts of the globe over the last decade.

“Our recent innovation includes working with social media companies to ensure the most effective digital safeguards are in place to protect minors and reduce any exposure for vulnerable groups, including partnering with Google to enable consumers to switch off digital advertising completely, if they wish.”

In September last year, the IARD teamed up with 13 leading marketing firms to establish the first industry-wide standards for the responsible influencer marketing of alcohol.

Furthermore, the IARD formed a coalition with online retailers and delivery platforms in January 2021 to establish a global standard for the online sale and delivery of alcoholic beverages.

“Widening the take up of these standards throughout a broader set of companies is the most effective route to ensure the swiftest and most appropriate regulation of alcohol marketing and advertising,” Ashworth added.

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