I. AVMSD: European Regulation of Alcohol Marketing
What is the AMVSD?
The regulation that the European Union has laid down in its legislation with regard to alcohol marketing is part of broader European legislation in the field of communication. This Audiovisual Media Services Directive (AVMSD) governs EU-wide coordination of national legislation on all audiovisual media, both traditional TV broadcasts and on-demand services. Formally, this European regulation has been designed in such a way that it leads to harmonization of the regulations of member states with the aim, inter alia, that cross-border transmissions would not contravene national regulations.
The AVMSD must, at least as regards alcohol marketing and food marketing, be regarded as a set of minimal regulations. Member States can decide to introduce stricter regulations. More and more countries consider European legislation to be too limited and decide for additional legal regulation of alcohol marketing. In other words, the AVMSD is increasingly less successful in harmonizing Member States’ rules on alcohol advertising.
The AVMSD was adjusted in 2018. This means that not only communication via traditional media such as television falls under the AVMSD, but also more modern media such as social media. With Facebook and YouTube as examples. The EU thus argues for the adjustment:
“The media landscape has shifted dramatically in less than a decade. Instead of sitting in front of the family TV, millions of Europeans, especially young people, watch content online, on demand and on different mobile devices. Global internet video share in consumer internet traffic is expected to increase from 64% in 2014 to 80% by 2019” (link)
It is intended that Member States have implemented the revised AVMSD in their own national legislation by 19 September 2020 at the latest.
It is important to know that the AVMSD does not regulate all forms of alcohol marketing. The AVMSD applies to media such as TV and online advertising but not to sponsorship, cinema advertising, radio, billboard advertising, retail at point of sale, price advertising and product placement. In other words: Europe is only involved in a limited part of the extensive advertising practice of alcohol producers.
For information: Product placement is the promotion of products and brands in films, TV programs, books and other productions, without it being clear to the public that advertising is involved.
Unlike with regard to alcohol and food marketing, the AVMSD prohibits all forms of advertising of tobacco. Remarkably, the AVMSD has no rules for limiting advertising for gambling.
II. AVMSD regulations regarding alcohol marketing
The AVMSD distinguishes between alcohol marketing regulations that apply to all audiovisual media (including digital media) and alcohol marketing regulations that only apply to television and teleshopping.
Despite strong criticism of the draft version of the AVMSD from health organizations (see Chapter III), these rules have not changed in the new version.
Article 5 of the AVMSD applies to all media:
Audio-visual commercial communications for alcoholic beverages shall not be aimed specifically at minors and shall not encourage immoderate consumption of such beverages.
Article 22 of the AVMSD applies specifically for television and teleshopping:
(a) It may not be aimed specifically at minors or, in particular, depict minors consuming these beverages;
(b) it shall not link the consumption of alcohol to enhanced physical performance or to driving;
(c) it shall no create the impression that the consumption of alcohol contributes towards social or sexual success
(d) It shall not claim that alcohol has therapeutic qualities or that it is a stimulant, a sedative or a means of resolving personal conflicts;
(e) It shall not encourage immoderate consumption of alcohol or present abstinence or moderation in a negative light;
(f) it shall not place emphasis on high alcohol content as being a positive quality of the beverages
Important comments about the revised AVMSD
*The so-called “Country of Origin Principle”
Advertising creators who feel restricted by national regulation can still choose to air their advertising messages through channels broadcasting from less restrictive countries. For example, alcohol advertising can be found on Swedish language channels broadcasting from England to Sweden, despite Sweden having a statutory ban on alcohol advertising on TV. The Swedish government has protested against this. However, the notification of Sweden seeking to enforce Swedish alcohol advertising legislation on the channels in questions was rejected by the European Commission in 2018. Read: Sweden cannot stop Alcohol ads on UK-based channels.
* Expansion of the volume of advertising
Based on the revised AVMSD, advertisers may broadcast more TV advertisements. The previous version of the AVMSD stipulated that a maximum of 12 minutes of TV advertising could be broadcast per hour. The revised AVMSD gives advertisers considerably more flexibility: broadcasters can choose more freely when to show ads throughout the day, with an overall limit of 20% or broadcasting time is maintained between 6:00 AM to 6:00 PM and the same share allowed during prime time (from 6:00 pm to midnight).
The consequence of these rules is that young people can be confronted with more alcohol advertising.
III. Health organizations criticize the regulations of the revised AVMSD with regard to alcohol marketing
III.1 Comments from national and international organizations (2016)
Prior to the publication of the revised AVMSD in September 2016, almost 40 childrens’ rights, family, consumer, public health, alcohol control, and medical organizations launched a joint call to Members of the European Parliament for ambitious action to free Europe’s children, youth and parents from aggressive marketing or products harmful to health and future well-being. (link) The core of their call was:
* Minimize young people’s exposure to marketing or health-harmful products
* Exclude alcohol and HFSS food (high fat, salt or sugar) from product placement and
* Ensure that Member States can effectively limit broadcasts from other countries on
public health grounds.
III.2. Call from European health organizations (2017)
In 2017, 10 European health organizations submitted concrete proposals to the members of the European Parliament for the final text of the revised AVMSD (link). None of these proposals have been accepted. Some of their proposals:
* Point out the importance of clear sanctions in case of non-compliance with the regulations.
* Advise Member States not to broadcast alcohol and food appealing to children at peak times. They point out that science is clear about the harmful influence of this advertising on young people.
* The same restrictions imposed on alcohol and food marketing in the AVMSD should also apply to digital video sharing platforms.
* Indicate that public health organizations should also be involved in drawing up national regulations. They find it remarkable that all commercial parties are mentioned but not the health organizations.
III.2 Comments from Eurocare on AVMSD (2018)
The European Alcohol Policy Alliance (Eurocare) is an alliance of non-governmental and public health organizations with 60 member organizations across 24 European countries advocating prevention and reduction of alcohol-related harm in Europe. Mariann Skar, Secretary General of Eurocare, responded in 2018 when the revised AVMSD was adopted in the EU parliament, among others as follows:
“We are deeply disappointed by the voting in the European Parliament. MEPS choose to ignore the knowledge gathered over the years that restricting alcohol advertising is one of the crucial steps we can take to protect children and youngsters. Effective rules to limit exposure to health-harmful marketing, including restrictions on advertising during peak viewing hours and on sponsorship and product placement, will protect minors and empower parents in their efforts to educate children about healthy lifestyles. Self-regulation as a regulatory instrument works best in a regulatory framework. Therefore, Member States have to take action and protect young people ”. (link)
III.3 Comments from EUCAM (2019)
The European Centre for Monitoring Alcohol Marketing (EUCAM) finds it most striking that the regulations in the AVMSD are completely focused on the content of advertising messages. There is no concrete regulation on limiting the volume of alcohol advertising.
In fact, with the extension of the permitted advertising time both during the day and in the evening, young people will be confronted with more alcohol advertising than before.
Studies recently conducted by EUCAM on behalf of the European Commission (ELSA; 2007, FASE; 2009) show that limiting the volume of alcohol advertising is essential to limit the influence of alcohol advertising on the drinking behavior of young people.
EUCAM also criticizes Article 22a in the AVMSD which states that alcohol advertising is not permitted that is specifically aimed at young people. In practice it has been proven countless times that this rule is very vague. For EUCAM it is important that alcohol advertising is not appealing to young people. Many advertisements that are not specifically aimed at young people, for example advertising with humor and with cool images of young men and women, can be very attractive to young people. If complaints are submitted about this, the opinion of the complaints committee is without exception that it cannot be proven that the advertisement is specifically aimed at young people.
EUCAM endorses Eurocare’s criticism that volume limiting national legal regulations are necessary to protect young people from the harmful effects of alcohol advertising. These regulations must cover all forms of alcohol advertising, including product placement and sponsorship.
IV. Extra sources
*The final text of the AVMSD:
* Information of the European Commission about the protection of minors and submitting complaints about advertising:
*List of EU-National Regulators:
*Recent scientific studies about the impact and the regulation of Alcohol marketing: The regulation of alcohol marketing: from research to public health (Addiction 2017);
*The AMMIE project (Alcohol Marketing Monitoring in Europe) consists of NGOs from five EU countries (Bulgaria, Denmark, Germany, Italy and the Netherlands) that monitored alcohol advertising practices and marketing activities in 2010. The project started in 2009 and is partly funded by the European Commission:
*The FASE study about effective marketing regulations;