Alcohol advertising is affecting kids as young as 13. How is this ok?


I recall watching the cricket a few summers ago with my then 13 year old son when he said, ‘that’s really cool’. He was referring to a Johnnie Walker ad called the invisible man.  How is a parent to counter that kind of sophisticated marketing?

And why do we allow the alcohol industry to target children and young people, when we know that they are vulnerable to the persuasive nature of alcohol advertising?

Ordinarily, young television audiences are off limits to alcohol advertisers, except during live sport, when, because of a curious exemption in the Commercial Television Code of Practice, alcohol advertising is allowed to screen before 8:30pm as part of a live sporting event on weekends or public holidays.

This exemption might seem benign—certainly, the alcohol industry argues that it does not deliberately set out to target underage drinkers.  However, children and adolescents watch a lot of sport on TV, with many of the broadcasts among the most popular programming for kids – a fact that I was not aware of.  Given this, sporting broadcasts have the potential to reach a significant number of children and young people, something that advertisers would be well aware of. A case in point is the AFL and NRL grand finals; the AFL end of season clash , is consistently in the top 5 most watched television programs with under 12s and the NRL grand final broadcast was the second highest rated program that age group that week..

The impact of the exemption is significant. For example, measures taken from January to December 2007 found almost half (46%) of the alcohol advertisements screened in five capital cities (Adelaide, Brisbane, Melbourne, Perth, Sydney) were shown on weekends and public holidays. Of these ads, 44% were shown during the day (after 5am and before 8.30pm) in live sport broadcasts, reflecting the operation and impact of the exemption.

At only 13 my son thought Johnnie Walker’s invisible man was cool.

Another study which looked at the extent and nature of alcohol advertising in Australia found that around half of all alcohol advertisements appeared during children’s popular viewing times.


Those who work in the area know that childhood exposure to alcohol advertising is linked to early initiation to drinking, and more harmful drinking in the long term.

And we also know that there is an incentive for the alcohol industry to ‘get ‘em young’. Research into the effects of marketing show a much stronger effect of marketing on impressionable children, especially when marketing is integrated into content which is emotionally engaging. But at what cost?

Rates of alcohol related harm in young Australians are rising, and increasingly, we’re seeing the effects of heavy drinking, not just in violence and anti-social behaviour, but in rates of illness and disease. The number of young people under the age of 30 developing alcoholic liver disease has risen more than tenfold in the last five years.  People with this disease in their 20s were likely to have begun heavy drinking as young as 15.

Parents play a crucial role in educating their children about health and happiness. But how can they compete against big budget campaigns by the alcohol industry, telling their kids that happiness resides in can of beer, or a can of coke?

I know the parents that I work with are fed up of seeing their kids looking like walking billboards for McDonalds because they sponsor their kids’ Auskick. Or a summer of cricket which is a festival of fried chicken and beer, interspersed with endorsements for the products by the sporting champions themselves. Sometimes it is hard for an adult to distinguish between what is marketing and the match – this even more difficult for a child.

We want to support the role of parents to ensure that their children are sheltered from overexposure to alcohol and junk food. That’s why we have launched our adShame campaign and why we need your help to share it.

Watch our video, share it with your friends and help us close the loophole in the legislation.

Jane is the Executive Manager of Alcohol and Obesity Policy at Cancer Council Victoria.