Drinks Ireland responds to Alcohol Action’s criticism of zero alcohol advertising

Drinks Ireland says there is a clear demand for zero alcohol products while Alcohol Action Ireland believes that using the same branding as alcoholic versions is inappropriate
Cormac Healy, director of Drinks Ireland says it's unfortunate to see criticism of zero alcohol products

Cormac Healy, director of Drinks Ireland says it’s unfortunate to see criticism of zero alcohol products

According to Alcohol Action Ireland zero alcohol ads are being used to circumvent the intent of laws designed to protect children from harmful alcohol advertising and the ‘so-called loophole’ must be closed.

CEO of Alcohol Action Ireland (AAI) Dr Sheila Gilheany said that zero alcohol ads are not being pushed because the alcohol industry wants us to drink less but because of new laws banning where they can advertise their products.  “Brand sharing means that children who see people drinking what appears to them to be alcohol – because of the same branding – will at a young age be conditioned to think differently about when and where it is appropriate to drink alcohol.”

Cormac Healy, director of Drinks Ireland has responded to these claims saying that the growth in zero alcohol products and the quality offering available is a positive development, that provides choice to consumers. “It’s unfortunate to see criticism of zero alcohol products from certain organisations,” he says.

“Zero alcohol products have a clear role to play in supporting moderation, and so the growth of this category is something we should all be encouraging, not discouraging.”

Healy continues, “There is clear demand for these products from adult consumers, and the public is already ahead on this issue when it comes to what they’re drinking and how they’re drinking. Industry is answering a real shift in consumption patterns.

“There are very strict codes in place on the advertising of zero alcohol drinks and they are never advertised or promoted to underage audiences.

“Driven by innovation among producers, non-alcohol beer’s share of the market in Ireland has grown from 0.4% in 2017 to 1.5% in 2021, and this growth is expected to continue.

“This comes as alcohol consumption continues to slow, down by a third in 20 years according to Revenue data. While some organisations are focused on pushing out-dated stereotypes about how we drink, additional research also shows that consumers, particularly young Irish adults, are seeking more moderation, product choice and balance in how they drink and socialise.

However, Dr Gilheany argued that non-alcoholic beverages must have their own distinct branding, quite different from the parent brand.

“Just as the PHAA’s legal mechanisms to restrict alcohol marketing came into force, big alcohol brands began brand sharing – that is advertising zero alcohol beers using the same parent branding, logos and colours. Zero alcohol drinks make up just 1.5% of the Irish drinks market but ads for them are now visible everywhere that alcohol ads aren’t allowed.”

The PHAA does not ban alcohol sports sponsorship but in November 2022 a modest measure was implemented outlawing alcohol advertisements on the field of play, while still allowing them on hoardings around the pitch.

“This was very much a watered-down restriction, yet Guinness responded by displaying their logo and name with an additional, barely visible 0.0, onto the pitch, during Six Nations matches. This is hardly in keeping with the intent of the law,” Dr Gilheany said. “When the ban on public transport came into force Heineken simply put a zero zero onto their ads on buses around Dublin. It’s clear to us now that alcohol brands will do everything they can to get around even the most modest of restrictions. ”

Healy says that non-alcohol variants are actually the choice of many drinkers now and will be for more in the future. “Consumers have the right to choose, and the right to be informed of those choices. These products empower and enable people to make positive choices and clearly, they are doing that given the growth trends in the category – criticism of their promotion suggests an anti-industry bias rather than a fact-based outlook,” he said.

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