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Alcohol advertising has been a major issue in New Zealand, with a change in policy allowing brand advertising on television and radio since February 1992. The Alcohol and Public Health Research Unit has been involved in several research studies on alcohol advertising in the 1990s. These built on experience from earlier studies, following changes in 1987 which allowed corporate and sponsorship television advertising by alcohol companies. 

Alcohol advertising currently comes under a voluntary industry code administered by the Advertising Standards Authority.  APHRU  contributed research findings to the 1995 and  1998 Reviews of this code.

Most recently, work has included a review of international policies on alcohol advertising and a review of the research literature.

Two additional projects focused on aspects of alcohol advertising and government policy.

  • A four component study has also been carried out on exposure and responses of 9-17 year olds to televised food advertising

Reviews of international policy and research literature
Recent work in this area has followed invitations to contribute chapters to international collaborative publications.  The first involved a review of policies on alcohol advertising in countries comparable to New Zealand, which points to the role that different politico-legal frameworks play in shaping the variety of current policy in countries comparable to New Zealand.  This has now been published as the final chapter in a Handbook edited by Australian researchers which covers the full range of alcohol issues.  This work also led to an invitation to contribute an article to a publication of the European Commission, as issues heavier drinking by young people and the role of alcohol marketing are being raised among European Union member countries.A review was also undertaken of recent literature on research on the impacts of alcohol advertising on consumption and alcohol related harm and on children and young people’s attitudes to alcohol and drinking behaviour.  This will be published in the forthcoming edition in Oxford University Press’s Alcohol Policy and the Public Good series.
Researchers: Dr Linda Hill, Professor Sally Casswell
Hill, L. and Casswell, S. (2001) Alcohol advertising and sponsorship: Commercial freedom or control in the public interest? In: Heather, N., Peters, T.J. and Stockwell, T. (eds.) International Handbook of Alcohol Dependence and Related Problems.  Chichester: John Wiley & Sons.
Hill, L. and Casswell, S. (2000) Alcohol advertising and sponsorship. Commercial Communications. The Journal of Advertising and Marketing Policy and Practice in the European Community.  Brussels: European Commission. 24: 6-11.

Longitudinal study on Adolescents and Alcohol Advertising

This study (Connolly et al., 1994), was based on a Dunedin age cohort which began as a sample of 1037 three year olds. The alcohol advertising study was based on data collected at ages 13, 15 and 18 and the sample size that participated in all three surveys was 667.

The alcohol advertising measures were only a small component of this longitudinal study and therefore the number of questions was limited. Respondents at age 15 were asked, unprompted, to recall anything they had seen or heard about alcohol (no time frame was specified) in each of: television, radio, magazines, newspapers and films. Variables used in regression analyses based on this data were: number of commercial advertisements recalled, number of moderation advertisements recalled and number of other portrayals of alcohol recalled.

The results showed that the number of commercial advertisements recalled by males at age 15 was related to the maximum quantity of beer consumed by males at age 18 and more weakly related to the average quantity of beer consumed at age 18 (the maximum quantity of beer was the largest quantity consumed at any of the locations asked about). That a relationship was found for beer and not wine/spirits (combined) was consistent with the content of most of the advertising at that time being for beer. The lack of any similar relationship for females was consistent with the very male orientation of the advertising (Wyllie et al., 1989) and less female interest in beer, as reflected in consumption patterns (Connolly et al., 1994).

By international standards, the level of alcohol advertising was low at the time these adolescents were 13, and although there was some television advertising when they were at aged 15, it was still quite limited (Casswell et al., 1989). That the relationships emerged despite this limited advertising activity adds to the policy significance of the findings.

One of the questions raised by these results is whether those males who were drinking larger quantities of beer at 18 were also heavier drinkers than others at age 15; it is possible they may have sought out the advertising at age 15 because of their interest in alcohol. While the Connolly et al., (1994) paper did not control for drinking at age 15, subsequent analyses (unpublished) have shown that the relationships still exists when this variable is added to the regression analyses.

Connolly et al., (1994) also drew attention to the implications of the small proportion of variance explained by their regression equations; in the analysis that identified the male beer drinking association with previous advertisement recall, only 10% of variance was explained. This is a low level and the authors acknowledged that measures other than those included in the study were likely to be influencing consumption. The implication of this is that if those variables had been included and controlled for, it may have influenced the nature and strength of the relationships discussed above.

Although no relationship was present between female recall of commercial advertising and consumption measures, females who watched more television at age 13 and 15 (averaged) drank larger quantities of wine/spirits (combined) and beer at age 18. There were two unexpected negative relationships identified in the female data. The number of commercial advertisements recalled at age 13 was weakly inversely related to frequency of beer drinking at age 18 and the number of portrayals of alcohol in the entertainment media recalled at age 13 was weakly inversely related to the maximum quantity at age 18. These two relationships had p values of 0.03 and 0.05 respectively; given the number of significance tests undertaken, some of the results with p values around 0.05 may be chance occurrences, particularly as there appears to be no theoretical explanation for the two unexpected results.

Gary Connolly, Sally Casswell, Jia-Fang Zhang, Phil A Silva
Peer review: Addiction 89, 1994

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Children's and Young People's Responses to Alcohol Advertising: Qualitative Research

In 1994 the Alcohol & Public Health Research Unit undertook a qualitative study of young people's responses to televised alcohol and moderation advertising. This project involved discussions with 24 groups comprising Maori, Samoan and Pakeha, male and female young people, aged 12 to 13 years and 15 to 16 years. The interviewing and reporting was undertaken by researchers from each of the three ethnic groups. Students discussed their response to five alcohol brand, one alcohol sponsorship, and one Alcohol Advisory Council advertisement.

Much of the imagery in the alcohol advertisements was appealing to these young people, with considerable consistency between the three ethnic groups. The linkage between drinking alcohol and having a 'good time' was accepted by almost all respondents, and in some cases alcohol was perceived to be a prerequisite to a good time. The appeals shown in some of the advertisements made some respondents, especially the 12 to 13 year olds, wish they were able to drink alcohol. Implicit in this was the belief that if they too drank alcohol, they would become like, or have as much fun as, the characters presented.

Some of the advertisements also communicated macho imagery, which was responded to positively by many of the respondents, both male and female. Drinking alcohol to achieve group inclusion also emerged as a recognised message in a number of advertisements.

Inclusion of images, people and environments familiar to the respondents meant a higher level of enjoyment and ability to relate to the advertising. For example, an advertisement that featured Polynesian rugby league players and league imagery was the one most liked by the Maori and Samoan respondents. Although this sports sponsorship advertisement did not overtly present the alcohol product, messages about the product were still conveyed.

The respondents were receptive to the concept of host responsibility, but many did not like the Rima Te Wiata character and the party scene in the Alcohol Advisory Council advertisement, and many did not associate host responsibility with themselves. A similar qualitative project was undertaken of responses from 18 to 29 year olds to the same group of advertisements, this being the age of the likely target group for many alcohol advertisements. The discussions identified similar appeals, imagery and messages in the advertising as did the adolescents. The main difference between the two groups was that the adolescents appeared to be more accepting of the messages and appeals of the advertisements.

These research projects were funded by the Health Research Council and the Alcohol Advisory Council, following a peer review process. A paper based on this research has been published in Contemporary Drug Problems which reports on the responses of adolescents and 18-29 year olds to specific alcohol advertisements.

Francesca Holibar, Allan Wyllie, Helen Moewaka Barnes,
Nite Fuamatu, Ken Aioluputea, Vapi Kupenga, Aroha Panapa, Sally Casswell.
Peer review: Journals

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Surveys of Children's and Young People's Responses to Alcohol Advertising

The Alcohol & Public Health Research Unit has also undertaken quantitative studies with similar age groups to the qualitative studies, also funded by the Alcohol Advisory Council, following a peer review process.

A face-to-face survey of 500 children and young persons aged 10 to 17 years was conducted in the three largest urban areas in 1993. Data was collected by experienced market research interviewers who were given extensive briefing/ training specific to this project by the Unit. Random cluster sampling was used and the response rate of 54% was affected by the need to obtain signed parental consent for persons aged under 16 years. The resulting sample was over-representative of 16 to 17 year olds. The Maori sample appeared to be represented in approximately correct proportions, although there was some uncertainty because some people labelled themselves as 'New Zealanders'.

Most of the advertisements had been seen by the 10 to 17 year olds, and most were liked by over half of those who had seen them. Initial analyses found that, among 14 to 17 year olds, the more they liked alcohol advertisements the more likely they were to be drinkers and to have higher annual consumption. Among this older age group, those who strongly liked the advertisements expected to drink more frequently in the future, as compared with those who were currently drinking at similar levels but liked the advertising less.

A second quantitative study, with a sample of 1012 persons aged 18 to 29 years, was undertaken using the Unit's CATI telephone interviewing system. Respondents were randomly selected from throughout New Zealand, with a response rate of 78%. Women were over-represented in the sample (55%), but ethnic composition and age groups within each gender were proportionate to the population as a whole.

The majority of people could recall having seen most of the advertisements, and about half of the men had seen most more than ten times. The advertisements were generally liked by about two thirds of the men and over half the women who had seen them. Analyses identified that liking for the advertisements was significantly associated with alcohol consumption among both men and women. The more they liked the advertisements, the more likely they were to drink larger quantities on a typical occasion and to drink more frequently. Among men, liking for the advertisements also predicted frequency of getting drunk, and experience of problems from their own drinking.

A paper is in press with Addiction based on survey data on the 10 to 17 year olds. It examines the relationship between response to specific advertisements and drinking frequency and expected drinking at age 20. On the basis of theory on the effects of advertising with young people, a model was hypothesised that included specified paths of influence between variables. The model is tested to see whether it is consistent with the data.

A feature of studies of both age groups is the measures being used to assess response to alcohol advertising. One measure, which we have labelled ‘recalled exposure’, was based on how often people could recall having seen the specified advertisement. The study also included a measure of positive responses to the advertising, based on liking, which proved to be an important measure. A paper based on the 18 to 29 year olds’ study has been submitted for publication.

Allan Wyllie, Jia-fang Zhang, Sally Casswell, Kevin Chee
Peer review: Journals

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Response of People in Recovery and Treatment to Alcohol Advertising

The Alcohol & Public Health Research Unit undertook qualitative research to examine the responses to alcohol advertising of 21 people who were either in treatment or in recovery after experiencing problems associated with their drinking.

The advertisements appealed strongly to some of the respondents, but the feelings they expressed were overwhelmingly negative, including feeling both sadness and guilt. The advertisements increased feelings of exclusion from normal life. Nearly all the respondents reported that exposure to alcohol advertising had made it more difficult to abstain at some stage of their sobriety, with some holding it responsible for their relapse.

A paper based on this research has been published in Contemporary Drug Problems.

Andrew Thomson, Eldene Bradley, Sally Casswell, Allan Wyllie
Peer review: Journal

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Content Analysis of Alcohol Advertising

A further study of the newly introduced television advertising by the Alcohol & Public Health Research Unit, project funded by the Alcohol Advisory Council after peer review, was a content analysis of 44 advertisements. This was undertaken by ten independent Pakeha coders, five men and five women, each of whom had experience and skills relevant to advertising content analysis.

These coders were asked to rate and comment on 44 alcohol advertisements. Each advertisement was rated on a scale of zero to five, according to the perceived presence of 17 themes. For any rating of two or above, coders were asked to give detailed comments regarding the reasons why they felt that the particular theme was present in the advertisement. They were also asked to record their perception of the target group for each advertisement on a given schedule.

Of the themes selected for analysis, those which were perceived to be presented most in the advertisements were a link between drinking alcohol and acceptance by same sex peers; aggressive macho behaviour; changes in perception/state of consciousness; pride in the role of alcohol in the history of New Zealand; natural/wholesome/healthy; association between alcohol and sport and fitness; and links with heroes of the young. For each of these themes, five or more advertisements were commented upon to a significant extent.

Researchers: Rachael Trotman, Sally Casswell, Allan Wyllie

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Expenditure on and Exposure to Alcohol Advertising

A further aspect of the multi-faceted, multi-method research carried out by the Alcohol and Public Health Research Unit as part of the alcohol advertising research programme was information detailing expenditure on and exposure to both alcohol and to moderation advertising.

These data were purchased from a market research company, with funding from the Alcohol Advisory Council. Among the findings was a 42% increase in expenditure on all forms of alcohol advertising following the 1992 policy change. The increase for television advertising was four-fold. Despite the ban on brand advertising before 9 pm, the average 5-14 year old was exposed to more than 200 viewing of alcohol advertisements during 12 months in 1992/93. The figure for 10-17 year olds was 317. This was compared with exposure to 27 advertisements promoting health with reference to alcohol use during the same time period (Casswell et al., 1994).

An update of the alcohol advertising and expenditure data was undertaken in 1996. Annual expenditure on alcohol advertising in 1995 (in 1996 dollars) was $44.7million, and television advertisements accounted for 70% of this ($31.2m). Two thirds of the alcohol advertising on television was for beer. There had been an increase in the number of alcohol ads that young people were exposed to. Despite a large increase in the amount of alcohol moderation/ host responsibility advertising they were exposed to, alcohol ads still outnumbered moderation ads by four to one. The average 5-14 year olds saw almost 300 alcohol ads per year and 10 to 17 year olds saw almost 400. The after 9 pm restriction on brand advertising was only partially limiting the exposure of children and adolescents to alcohol advertising.

Sally Casswell, Sheilla Jones, Allan Wyllie, Max Harré
Report: Alcohol and Moderation Advertising Expenditure and Exposure: 1996.
Peer Review: Journal

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Public Opinion on Alcohol Advertising

Public opinion on alcohol advertising was surveyed in February 1993, with project funding by the Alcohol Advisory Council. Interviews with 997 New Zealanders aged 16 years and over were undertaken by trained market research interviewers. Up to six call backs resulted in a response rate of 56%. While the option most favoured (by 46%) was to retain the status quo of brand advertising after 9 pm, the research identified that this preference was based on the false belief that children would not be viewing after this hour.

Researchers: Caroline Maskill, Allan Wyllie, Sally Casswell

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Opinions of Communications Experts

In 1991 the Alcohol & Public Health Research Unit undertook a study for the Broadcasting Standards Authority which sought the opinion of 35 people with academic or other expertise in the fields of communications, advertising and marketing on the impact of alcohol advertising messages on young people.

The communications experts selected were people would not normally contribute to a review process through submissions but whose opinions could assist the decision-making process. The respondents expressed concern about the macho imagery in alcohol advertising and its appeal to children and adolescents. The strong association in alcohol advertising between alcohol and sport was a concern of most informants and that there was majority support for the argument that the messages of alcohol companies needed to be balanced by health education. The portrayal of alcohol consumption in alcohol advertising as unproblematic was considered by most communication/education experts to make alcohol education more difficult because the education seemed boring and negative in comparison.

Andrew Thomson, Liz Stewart, Allan Wyllie and Sally Casswell
Peer Review: Journal

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