Digital media is “like the Wild West”
In a recent statement on behalf of the Association of Advertisers in Ireland, its Chief Executive Barry Dooley wrote, “We believe that the freedom to advertise, within a clear and responsible framework, is good for people, good for business and good for the economy.”
7 January 2019 | 0
He was reacting to the latest alcohol advertising restrictions contained in the recently-passed Public Health (Alcohol) Bill.
“Our members’ objection to these is that the Bill is supposed to protect children from alcohol and they think that by placing restrictions on advertising it’s going to achieve that,” he says, “But this is not going to reduce the exposure of children to alcohol – it’s really about Ministers taking the easy option, saying that they’ve ‘introduced these restrictions’.”
In this respect the AAI joins the drinks industry in rejecting the Public Health (Alcohol) Bill’s restrictions on alcohol advertising on the basis of lack-of-evidence alone.
“We’ve no problem with them imposing some of the other restrictions – we can work with them – but these are unfair and are not going to address the key issue – misuse of alcohol and abuse by teenagers.”
In fact both alcohol consumption and alcohol advertising levels have been diminishing but establishing any connection would prove difficult.
Today alcohol accounts for just over 3% of total media spend.
“Alcohol holds sixth place, a mid-category ranking, with a spend of €32 million,” says Barry, “It’s not as big as people make it out to be and this is something I highlighted in an ‘open discussion’ in the Dail – this compares with a spend of around €82 million from the main multiples. It used to be big but now, with mobile phones, telecomms and banking etc alcohol’s not so big. For example car advertising – especially at this time of year – is huge.”
And one shouldn’t overlook the fact that every €1 of ad spend generates €5.70 on average for the Irish economy in an industry that supports 30,000 jobs.
Digital media dilemma
His spending stats, gleaned from Nielsen data, don’t include search engines such as Google or social media formats such as facebook “… which is substantial” he says, “This is the only sector that’s been consistently recording double-digit growth over the past five years.
“That’s another reason for the ridiculous situation we’re in,” he continues, “the complete lack of common sense. Digital media is like the Wild West. So how can you expect to ‘protect our children from unnecessary exposure to alcohol’ as the Ministers are saying, by excluding digital from this Bill?”.
”There is a disconnect between evidence-based research and policy,” he believes, “If a Minister introduces something that will supposedly ‘protect children’, then he/she will win more votes – the popular thing to do here!”
Over 40% of commercial viewing by young Irish adults is via UK “opt-out” channels, he points out, “Introducing the proposed Bill and Code will provide a significant material advantage to non-Irish broadcasters.”
Barry & the AAI
Founded in 1951 the AAI is the representative body for Irish marketers and advertisers. Membership includes companies involved in marketing communications and advertising.
As its Chief Executive, Barry knows more than many-an ad man about the drinks industry.
He spent three years as Group Product Manager for Bulmers (under Brendan McGuinness) and the other ciders (with the exception of Stag) within the former Showerings of Ireland portfolio.
He also spent two years working for Saatchi & Saatchi before being recruited to the board of directors of Irish International (where he spend the next 20 years), joining the AAI in 2013.
He agrees that while the government’s advertising measures will have little influence on reducing the harmful consumption of alcohol, they will have a “substantive, negative impact” on the Domestic Broadcast, Out of Home and Print media markets.
“We wrote to Denis Naughton, then Minister for Communications about the watershed proposals on Broadcast and TV,” he explains but alas to no avail, it seems.
Substantive negative impact
Barry paints a gloomy canvas.
“It’s estimated that the proposed measures would cost Out of Home media here €11 million per year, Broadcast €7 million and Print media some €2 million according to economist Jim Power,” he points out.
Following passing of the Bill, a ban on OOH advertising becomes effective from 12th November next year.
“This will obviously affect jobs in the marketing, advertising, print and production industries,” he says, “Take the creative agency working on behalf of Guinness, for example.
“Brand managers will lose their role in developing advertising for their brands while TV production companies making ads here will no longer be doing so,” he adds, “These content restrictions are similar to France’s Loi Evin. Few companies will be interested in doing this when they can develop more entertaining advertising in other European countries that can then be broadcast into Ireland via Sky etc.”
Government policies on alcohol and evidence-based research seem to live at completely opposite ends of the spectrum.
Twenty years after the Loi Evin was introduced in 1991 figures from the European School & Survey Project on Alcohol and Other Drugs 2011 ESPAD report (the most authoritative public and state-funded study on underage alcohol consumption) show that 67% of the French population aged 15 consumed alcohol in the 30 days prior to the study putting France 10% above the EU average of 57%. It also found that 44% of them binge-drank in the 30 days prior to the study putting France 5% over the EU average of 39% while use of alcohol during the 12 months previous to the study increased from about 70% in 1999 to about 80% in 2011. The proportion which reported having had five or more drinks on one occasion during the 30 days prior to the study increased from 35% in 1999 to about 45% in 2011.
A 1999 report by the French Parliament evaluating its effectiveness concluded that no effect on alcohol consumption could be established.
At 13.25 litres per capita consumption is now higher in France than in the UK (11.54 litre) where no advertising ban exists.
“So it clearly hasn’t had any effect on French underage consumption and binge-drinking, which continued to grow over past years,” says Barry,
“I’ve said all along that alcohol consumption is reducing in Ireland and we’ve put in measures to ensure responsible advertising such as Central Copy Clearance Ireland.
“The evidence-based research for that is that since its foundation 12 years ago CCCI has been responsible for minimal complaints about alcohol advertising being upheld by the Advertising Standards Association in Ireland.”
But we are not alone.
Recently, the lead story in the Glasgow Herald dealt with the Scottish Government’s mulling over banning alcohol advertising in light of the latest report on alcohol consumption rates in the colder Northern European countries which enjoy less light in Winter.
“There’s a lot more to be looked at besides advertising,” he suggests, “But there’s simply no evidence to suggest that by banning alcohol advertising, abuse will reduce, so banning it is unfair. Quite frankly these random measures are misleading and unfair and will have a negative effect on our industry.
“Many factors are at play here in regard to alcohol consumption and a lot of it is down to ‘When is last time you took notice of alcohol advertising on TV or elsewhere?’
“They wouldn’t know,” he concludes.