Social Science & Medicine; 22 May 2024;


  • Alcohol advertising content regulations can protect young people

  • Effectiveness of regulated alcohol advertising is stronger for younger people

  • Non-regulated advertising (NRA) increases intention to drink and buy alcohol

  • This effect of NRA may be explained by creative elements that convey symbolic cues

  • Warnings implemented in many countries are ineffective at protecting young people



The World Health Organization advocates measures regulating alcohol advertising content, as illustrated by the French Évin law. However, how people react to such regulation has been under-investigated. The research reported here has two objectives: to analyze how different advertising contents (regulated or not) affect the persuasion process from attention to behavioural responses, and whether young people are protected; to examine how alcohol warnings perform depending on their salience and the advertising content displayed (regulated or not).

Materials and Methods

This study surveyed French people aged 15–30 using a mixed-methods design. In-depth interviews were conducted on 26 respondents to understand how non-regulated (NRA) and regulated (RA) alcohol advertising influence the persuasion process. An experiment on 696 people assessed the influence of RA vs. NRA on intentions to buy and drink alcohol, and whether less vs. more salient warnings displayed in the RA or NRA setting have differential effects on behavioural responses.


NRA (vs. RA) had a greater influence on young people’s desire to buy and drink alcohol, which we explain by different psychological processes. NRA appeared to trigger a heuristic process that involves affective reactions (e.g. image, symbolism) and product-oriented responses (e.g. quality), whereas RA appeared to trigger a more systematic process that had less influence. The protective effect of content regulations was strong for the youngest participants but fades as age increases, reaching its limits at age 22 years. Salience of the warnings had no influence on desire to buy and drink alcohol, whatever the ad content.


Advertising content regulations need to be implemented to protect young people, particularly the youngest. Our results on alcohol health warnings highlighted that text-only labels similar to those adopted in many countries are ineffective at decreasing young people’s intentions to buy and drink alcohol.

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