Objective: To assess young people's perceived messages in three ads for a vodka-based, pre-mixed alcohol beverage, and to assess the extent to which the ads appeared to be consistent with the industry's voluntary code.
Method: Members of two convenience samples of young people (15-16 and 19-21 years) were each exposed to one of three advertisements. Respondents completed a post exposure questionnaire based on standard advertising copy testing procedures.
Results: The most frequently nominated open-ended responses to 'the main message(s) of the ad' related to the product delivering mood effects: both removal of negative emotions (e.g. 'stress reduction'), as well as inducing positive states such as feeling 'carefree' and gaining 'increased enjoyment'. Consumption of the product was perceived to offer 'self-confidence', 'sexual/relationship success' and 'social success'. Fewer respondents nominated tangible product characteristics, the main one being 'easy to drink'. One in four of the 15-16 year olds saw the ads as aimed at 'people my age', while almost half of the 19-21 year olds saw the ads as aimed at 'people younger or much younger than me'.
Discussion: These results appear to contravene the Alcoholic Beverages Advertising Code (ABAC) by suggesting that the consumption of alcohol beverages: (i) contributes to social and sexual success; and (ii) contributes to a significant change in mood (stress reduction/relaxation).
Implications: Incidental observation of alcohol ads suggests that contravention of the code is more widespread than the number of alcohol advertising complaints would indicate. All 11 such complaints lodged with the Advertising Standards Board between May 1998 and April 1999 were dismissed. Evidence such as that gathered in this study might improve the chances of complaints being upheld.