Alcohol Regs Updated: or why current regulations are not working

AlcoholThe Portman Group, the self-regulation body of the alcohol industry in the UK, has updated it’s code of practice for alcohol marketing. The updated code contains a number of changes making the code more “comprehensive”. It also extends the code to cover social media where the ASA codes are not currently applicable.

While making the code more comprehensive is certainly something to be welcomed, the code (along with other codes) still suffers from a major problem: policy makers assume, that by regulating what advertising cans “say” and “show”, they can effectively regulate the potential harm done by “harmfull” products.

Unfortunately, the view of advertising is both outdated as well as wrong. Advertising does not (or at least no longer) simply work by providing simple product information. Most advertising does not try to do that. Simply put, what advertisements try to do is to change brand attitudes and develop emotions towards brands. The emotional bonds between the brand and the consumer then leads to purchase decisions – more so than simple product information which is unlikely to be recalled correctly at the point of purchase.

Ultimately, therefore, many adverts give little information – and rely much more on building a brand image and emotional connection. Even more so, in the case of social media. Take the example of Peroni – not only on Facebook, but also in their adverts. If you check out their Facebook page (here), you’ll see how little product information they actually give. In fact, much of what they are talking about has nothing whatsoever to do with the beer: It’s opera, it’s fashion, it’s what it means to be Italian… This is building a brand image in the mind of consumers of Italian sophistication. Thus, by creating this image, and the associated emotions, the marketers hope to bind the emotions to the product. Thus, when consumers see or use Peroni, they “feel” the Italian sophistication.

This means, focusing on regulating what can and can not be said (like, for example, saying you can say it has low alcohol, you can not say it makes you sexually attractive) makes actually little sense. Because most advertisers don’t actually “say” much at all about their product – they rely on implicit, brand creating claims (e.g. opera = sophistication). Thus the focus of current regulation has to change drastically if it is supposed to be successful. Because as long as it regulates what is explicitly said, especially product information, it won’t cover implicit, brand building advertising – which is ultimately more likely to create powerful purchase intentions.

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