You're here: Home / What we do / Alcohol Alert / Issue 1 2001 / Industry targets the young

Industry targets the young

"Scandal as drink bosses target our children" was the headline in the Daily Express. The article was inspired by the recent Eurocare publication, "Marketing Alcohol to Young People", an eye-catching brochure which brings together examples of advertisements from all over the world. The text shows how the drink industry cynically sets out to persuade the young to consume alcohol by making it appear glamourous, fashionable, and amusing. The advertisements associate alcohol with sporting and sexual prowess. Heroes of the football field play with the logo of a particular beer emblazoned across their chests. Beautiful young women imply a willingness to surrender to the man who swills a particular kind of booze. Perhaps most notoriously, there is the Carlsberg baby – a child of a few months who, in the colours of Liverpool FC, is already a living advertisement for Carlsberg lager.

It was this last image which caught the attention of Gro Harlem Brundtland, the Director General of the World Health Organisation, at the recent ministerial meeting in Stockholm on Young People and Alcohol. Holding up the brochure, she said that this was evidence of what governments concerned about the well-being of youth were up against.

Besides the Daily Express, other major national newspapers took up the story, as did television and radio. The industry was perhaps unprepared and could only come up with the comment that "Marketing Alcohol to Young People" was "inaccurate and misleading" though the various spokesmen could hardly deny that the advertisements were genuine and spoke for themselves. "Self-regulation is working," said the industry's Portman Group and it is true that a number of complains have been upheld but these have been against such flagrant violations that they could hardly be ignored without the system being totally discredited.

Those working with the problem would say that what is much more insidious is the relentless pressure exerted by the kind of advertising strategies highlighted in "Marketing Alcohol to Young People".

The fact is that problems arising from alcohol use among the young are rising, particularly in the United Kingdom, and there is a vast consequent cost to the NHS – besides the terrible personal price many families have to pay. At least the Portman Group is happy with how things are going on the self-regulation front.

Ironically on the day "Marketing Alcohol to Young People" was reported in The Daily Telegraph, the same newspaper announced a "ground-breaking" appointment at Bacardi-Martini, one of the Portman Group's major funders: a marketing director with special responsibility for "the youth market" and audiences at musical events.