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Alcohol ads commonly appeal to underage adolescents

New research finds association between adolescents finding alcohol adverts appealing and never drinkers’ susceptibility to drink

A new study published in the journal Alcohol & Alcoholism has found alcohol adverts commonly appeal to underage adolescents.

Half of 11-17-year-olds surveyed reacted positively to the adverts featuring Fosters and Smirnoff brands (53% and 52% respectively), and a third reacted positively to an advert featuring the Haig Club brand (34%). Among adolescents who had never drunk alcohol, associations were seen between positive reactions to the adverts and susceptibility to drink in the next year, leading researchers to call for UK policymakers to consider tighter alcohol advertising legislation.

Lead author of the study, Dr Sadie Boniface, who is head of research at the Institute of Alcohol Studies, said: We already knew that exposure to alcohol marketing is high among young people. We wanted to build on other studies that spoke directly to young people about their views, taking advantage of the large number of adolescents in this study. Based on what we know from other research, it was not a surprise that these adverts commonly appealed to young people.  

The association between positive reactions to the adverts and being susceptible to drink among underage adolescents who have never tried alcohol is of particular concern. This was consistent for each of the three adverts studied. Taken together with other research, there is strong evidence the current UK alcohol marketing regulations are inadequate in protecting young people from being exposed to content that does appeal to them and influences their behaviour.  

A more complex analysis of the relationship between positive reactions to the alcohol adverts and alcohol use found that:
·         Among approximately 1,500 adolescents who had never drunk alcohol, having a positive reaction to each of the adverts was associated with around one and a half times increased odds of being susceptible to drink in the next year
·         Among approximately 900 current drinkers, positive reactions to two of the three adverts were associated with around 1.4 times increased odds of being a higher risk drinker  

As this was a cross-sectional study, the link between reactions to the adverts and alcohol use behaviours is not causal. However, the researchers note that their findings tie in with other evidence that has established underage adolescents’ awareness of various alcohol marketing activities, and links between marketing exposure and subsequent alcohol use.  

The researchers analysed data from a sample of 2,500 11-17-year-olds in the Youth Alcohol Policy Survey, an online cross-sectional survey of adolescents conducted by YouGov for Cancer Research UK in April and May 2017.  

The adolescents were shown three television alcohol adverts from well-known beer and spirit brands (Fosters Radler, Smirnoff, and Haig Club Clubman), and asked to rate a series of statements which were used to determine their reaction to the advert. More than half reacted positively to the two adverts comprising content of a humorous or fun nature (53% for Fosters and 52% Smirnoff). A third (34%) did the same for the more ‘sophisticated and stylish’ Haig Club Clubman advert.  

In the UK, alcohol marketing is regulated through a complaints-led system of self-regulation by the alcohol and the advertising industries as well as co-regulation with The Office of Communications (Ofcom). Systems like these have been criticised previously for failing to protect young people. Although only three adverts were used in this study, they were not in breach of the UK marketing codes, and therefore could be seen to be typical of alcohol advertising. In that light, the finding that these adverts commonly appealed to underage adolescents indicates there may be weaknesses in the regulatory codes themselves, their implementation, or both, and ultimately contributes to wider concerns about complaints-led self-regulatory approaches.[SB1]  

Notes to Editors:
This research will be published Friday 23rd April 00.01 in the peer-reviewed journal Alcohol and Alcoholism as: Boniface S, Critchlow N, Severi K, MacKintosh AM, Hooper L, Thomas C and Vohra J (2021). Underage Adolescents’ Reactions to Adverts for Beer and Spirit Brands and Associations with Higher Risk Drinking and Susceptibility to Drink: A Cross-Sectional Study in the UK. DOI: 10.1093/alcalc/agab018. (contact the author for full text).

The survey was conducted by YouGov Plc. Total sample size was 2,551 11-17 year olds (within a sample of 3,399 11-19 year olds). Fieldwork was undertaken between April – May 20217. The survey was carried out online. The figures were weighted and are representative of 11-19 year olds in the UK by age, gender, ethnicity, UK region and Index of Multiple Deprivation (IMD) deciles.  

The adverts selected were from the ‘Good Call’ campaign for Fosters Radler (a type of lager flavoured with lemon juice (2% ABV)), the ‘Make Your Own Rules’ campaign for Haig Club Clubman whisky (40% ABV) featuring David Beckham, and the ‘We’re Open’ campaign for Smirnoff vodka (37.5% ABV)  

53% adolescents had a positive reaction to the Fosters Radler advert, 52% to the Smirnoff advert, and 34% to the Haig Club Clubman advert.  

Among never drinkers, the Fosters Radler advert was associated with 1.65 increased odds of susceptibility to drink, the Haig Club Clubman advert was associated with 1.59 times increased odds, and the Smirnoff advert was associated with 1.44 times increased odds.   Among current drinkers, positive reactions to the Fosters Radler advert were associated with 1.46 times increased odds of higher risk drinking and positive reactions to the Haig Club Clubman advert were associated with 1.37 times increased odds. Positive reactions to the Smirnoff advert were not significantly associated with higher risk drinking.  

About the Institute of Alcohol Studies  
The Institute of Alcohol Studies is an independent institute bringing together evidence, policy and practice from home and abroad to promote an informed debate on alcohol’s impact on society.

Our purpose is to advance the use of the best available evidence in public policy decisions on alcohol. The IAS is a company limited by guarantee, No 05661538 and registered charity, No 1112671. For more information visit

About Cancer Research UK  
·         Cancer Research UK is the world’s leading cancer charity dedicated to saving lives through research.
·         Cancer Research UK’s pioneering work into the prevention, diagnosis and treatment of cancer has helped save millions of lives.
·         Cancer Research UK has been at the heart of the progress that has already seen survival in the UK double in the last 40 years.
·         Today, 2 in 4 people survive their cancer for at least 10 years. Cancer Research UK’s ambition is to accelerate progress so that by 2034, 3 in 4 people will survive their cancer for at least 10 years.
·         Cancer Research UK supports research into all aspects of cancer through the work of over 4,000 scientists, doctors and nurses.
·         Together with its partners and supporters, Cancer Research UK's vision is to bring forward the day when all cancers are cured.
For further information about Cancer Research UK's work or to find out how to support the charity, please call 0300 123 1022 or visit
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For media enquiries please contact:
Dr Sadie Boniface Head of Research Institute of Alcohol Studies Email:   Twitter: @InstAlcStud  [SB1]This not essential if it is too long? Notes to editors?

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