Page last updated at 13:36 GMT, Tuesday, 8 September 2009 14:36 UK

The power of alcohol marketing

By Nick Triggle
Health reporter, BBC News

The British Medical Association has called for all alcohol advertising and marketing to be banned.

The doctors' lobby group says the techniques being deployed are fuelling the ever-increasing rate of alcohol consumption. Is marketing really that powerful?

Magners cider
Cider sales have boomed in recent years

It seems staggering to think that just a few years ago cider was considered an unfashionable drink.

To many, it was the tipple of choice for teenagers in the park or drunks on the street.

But nowadays it is impossible to get away from the colourful array of brands piled high on the supermarket shelves and in the fridges behind bars.

In the industry, it is known as the "Magners effect" - and perhaps more than any other sales push in recent history, it illustrates the power of marketing when it comes to alcohol.

Makers C&C set about promoting the drink as a more sophisticated product.

You cannot underestimate the power of marketing
Professor Hastings, social marketing expert

A £25m advertising campaign was launched showing the drink being poured from a pint-bottle over ice into a glass.

The impact was staggering. During 2006, sales grew by 225%.

Other companies soon caught on. Bulmers started marketing its products with phrases such as "nothing added but time" and "time dedicated to you" and today the cider market is thriving.

Britons spend £46m a year on cider - up from a modest £3.4m a few years ago.

Professor Gerard Hastings, an expert in marketing from Stirling University, says: "You cannot underestimate the power of marketing.

"Whereas in traditional advertising it is clear and overt in the sense that you are aware that a salesman is trying to sell something, the marketing around drinks now is much more subtle than that.

"It is about associating a brand with aspirational goals. Merchandising such as a chunky thick glass is designed to encourage drinkers to think the product is linked to quality and strength.

"Having a drink sponsoring a music festival gets the product being viewed next to top artists. That signifies it is cool and this in turn influences purchasing."

Sponsorship

Professor Hastings, who authored the BMA report, says he is most concerned about sports sponsorship. "You see footballers running around with the names of drinks on their shirts. Regulations say that you cannot link alcohol with sporting prowess, but that is just what is happening."

The influence of marketing has also been highlighted by recent research by the government-funded National Prevention Research Institute.

More than 1,000 children aged 15 and under were interviewed during the study on alcohol marketing.

Researchers reported high levels of knowledge about the market with most able to name the leading brands when shown pictures with the labels masked.

When quizzed specifically about marketing, two thirds were aware of sports-related sponsorship, while nearly half owned alcohol-branded merchandise.

Professor Martin Plant, from the Alcohol and Health Research Trust, agrees marketing is a powerful tool.

"Companies would not spend so much if it was not having an impact. We are getting more and more evidence on this - and it all seems to be pointing to the fact that the reach of marketing is incredible.

"And I would not say it is just children we should be worried about, adults can also susceptible too - and if we are going to do something about the chronic alcohol problems marketing is one area that will have to be tackled."



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SEE ALSO
Doctors want booze marketing ban
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Plans for minimum alcohol price
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People drinking more 'by stealth'
26 Aug 09 |  Health
Daily alcohol limit 'unhelpful'
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Confusion 'fuels alcohol misuse'
29 Jul 09 |  Health
Problem drinking 'hits over-60s'
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UK's 'strongest beer' condemned
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Four pints 'increase health risk'
02 Jul 09 |  Scotland

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