How does alcohol advertising affect heavy drinkers?

There is limited evidence available on whether alcohol advertising and counter-advertising impacts upon heavy drinkers’ alcohol consumption. Our study, a collaboration with colleagues at London South Bank University published in the British Journal of Health Psychology, aimed to address this evidence gap.

In a randomized controlled experiment in a ‘bar-lab’ designed to look like a typical pub, 204 heavy drinking young adults viewed either alcohol promoting ads, alcohol warning ads, or non-alcohol ads, before having an opportunity to drink alcoholic drinks in a taste test. We measured whether the type of ads seen influenced the amount of alcohol consumed.

We found that the type of advertising shown did not influence alcohol consumption in this group of heavy drinkers. However, participants who saw alcohol promoting advertisements showed increased positive emotion and an increased approach/reduced avoidance bias towards alcohol compared to those who saw non-alcohol advertisements.

We also found that participants who experienced negative emotion after viewing alcohol warning adverts consumed less alcohol. This suggests that producing alcohol warning advertising that produces negative emotion may be an effective strategy to reduce alcohol consumption in young adult heavy drinkers.

Impact of alcohol-promoting and alcohol-warning advertisements on alcohol consumption, affect, and implicit cognition in heavy-drinking young adults: A laboratory-based randomized controlled trial. Stautz K, Frings D, Albery IP, Moss AC, Marteau TM.

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