Rossen, I., Pettigrew, S., Jongenelis, M., Stafford, J., Wakefield,
M., and Chikritzhs, T. (2017). Evidence on the nature and extent of alcohol promotion
and the consequences for young people’s alcohol consumption. Report prepared for
the Mental Health Commission by the WA Cancer Prevention Research Unit, Curtin
University School of Psychology and Speech Pathology, Perth, Western Australia.
Alcohol consumption is a leading contributor to the global burden of disease and death.
Given the harms attributable to alcohol, there is a need to examine the factors that contribute
to its consumption. One known influence is alcohol promotion. The alcohol industry is a
multinational entity that devotes substantial resources to the promotion of alcohol. There is
evidence to suggest that these efforts have become increasingly sophisticated and widespread
in recent years. As well as traditional forms of media such as television and magazines,
alcohol is promoted through less explicit means such as sports sponsorship and alcoholbranded
merchandise. Alcohol is also increasingly promoted via newer forms of media, such
as social media platforms. This report provides an overview of the nature, extent, and impact
of alcohol promotion, with a specific focus on the influence of alcohol promotion on young
people. Major findings are as follows:
• Studies show that young people are exposed to a large and growing amount of alcohol
advertising on traditional media and have high levels of awareness of this advertising.
Analyses of alcohol advertising via traditional media channels show a high rate of
advertising code violation. These code violations occur disproportionately in media
with high youth exposure. Internal marketing documents show that some alcohol
marketers seek to include content in advertising that targets youth, promotes excessive
consumption of alcohol, and links alcohol with social success, while attempting to
stay within the letter of advertising codes.
• Sports sponsorship by the alcohol industry occurs at both the community and
professional level. Sponsorship practices by alcohol companies mean there are
numerous visual references to alcohol during televised sports events. Research
suggests that alcohol promotion practices at live sporting events serve to normalise
the association between sports and alcohol consumption.
• A loophole in current regulations allows alcohol advertising to be aired in children’s
popular television viewing times during sports programming. This means Australian
children and adolescents are exposed to a substantial amount of alcohol advertising on
• The advent of digital media marks a new frontier in the promotion of alcohol.
Research has documented an increasingly sophisticated range of techniques used in
online alcohol promotion to integrate alcohol into the everyday lives of young people.
These techniques include prompting interaction with alcohol-related content among
users, co-opting the cultural practices of youth, using social media to leverage
alcohol-sponsored events, and strategically timing posts to engage with users at
popular drinking times. There are limited controls in place to prevent underage youth
from accessing alcohol-related content on social networking sites, and as a result
young people (both adolescents and young adults) are likely exposed to a high volume
of alcohol-related promotional activities through digital media.
• Alcohol promotion has clear effects on young people’s alcohol-related beliefs and
behaviours. There is strong and consistent evidence showing that alcohol promotion
through traditional media channels leads to earlier initiation of drinking and increased
likelihood that those who already drink will drink more and in ways that put them at
increased risk of harm.
• A growing body of research demonstrates the influence of alcohol-related sports
sponsorship and alcohol promotion via digital media on alcohol-related beliefs and
behaviours. Research suggests that alcohol sponsorship of sporting events leads to
greater alcohol consumption and implicit brand familiarity and liking among young
people. Alcohol sponsorship of athletes has been associated with higher likelihood of
hazardous drinking in these athletes. A link has been found between active
engagement with alcohol-related content on digital media (not passive exposure) and
greater alcohol consumption. The need for more longitudinal research in these areas
has been noted, but the trends mirror those found for the traditional advertising media
that have been the focus of most previous research (i.e., television, radio, and print).
• Other forms of alcohol promotion also impact on youth intake levels. Point of sale
promotions increase the amount of alcohol young people buy on a single occasion and
ownership of alcohol-branded merchandise is a strong predictor of greater alcohol
consumption among young people.
• Researchers are increasingly noting that corporate social responsibility practices by
the alcohol industry can serve to protect commercial interests and divert attention
from regulatory approaches known to effectively reduce alcohol consumption.
• Analysis of alcohol industry magazines shows that some alcohol marketers are
engaging in novel and sophisticated above- and below-the-line promotional strategies
designed to appeal to young people.
• Research consistently shows that industry-driven advertising codes in Australia and
abroad are ineffective, as evidenced by a high number of violations of both the letter
and spirit of those codes. Many authors argue that advertising codes should be
independent of the alcohol and advertising industries and instead be government
regulated. It has also been proposed that the scope of alcohol advertising codes should
be expanded to relate to all forms of alcohol promotion and to include provisions
about the volume and placement of promotion, not just the content. Alternatively, it
has been suggested that codes could specify permitted forms of promotion rather than
attempting to address all non-permitted promotional activities.