Alcohol Advertising: What does the evidence show?

27 July 2023

The economics literature shows that advertising can increase the sale of individual brands but, in mature markets, does not increase aggregate sales of the type of product being advertised. Public health campaigners claim that a ban on alcohol advertising would reduce alcohol-related harm by reducing per capita alcohol sales. This paper examines the empirical evidence.

A small number of studies looking specifically at the impact of alcohol advertising bans have produced mixed results, but the majority have found no impact on aggregate sales.

Cross-sectional observational studies typically find a relationship between exposure to alcohol advertising and higher alcohol consumption, but neither variable is measured objectively. Both exposure to advertising and alcohol consumption are self-reported and therefore susceptible to recall
bias. It is likely that heavier drinkers pay more attention to alcohol advertisements. Longitudinal studies can partially address this, but it is difficult to control for a young person’s propensity to drink, and there is selection bias because advertisers target those who are most likely to consume the product.

Econometric studies looking at the relationship between expenditure on alcohol advertising and per capita alcohol sales use objectively measured variables and have consistently found no relationship. A small number of randomised controlled trials have looked at whether exposure to alcohol advertising acts as a cue to drink alcohol in the short term. They have produced mixed and contradictory results.

The study of alcohol advertising poses a number of methodological challenges, but there is no robust evidence in favour of alcohol advertising bans. Banning alcohol advertising should not be presented as an evidencebased policy.

Download PDF Perspectives_2_Alcohol-Advertising_web

EPICENTER publications and contributions from our member think tanks are designed to promote the discussion of economic issues and the role of markets in solving economic and social problems. As with all EPICENTER publications, the views expressed here are those of the author and not EPICENTER or its member think tanks (which have no corporate view).


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