Thursday, 20 October 2011

Alcohol Concern's sleight of hand

Alcohol Concern have a habit of using children in their opinion polls, presumably because young people tend to be stupid and impressionable, and therefore more likely to support neo-prohibitionist policies.

Their latest effort is so piss-poor that only The Guardian has bothered to cover it. It finds that...

Under-18s want more protection from alcohol marketing exposure

A survey of over 2300 children and young people reveals concern at alcohol marketing exposure and support for stronger regulation that robustly protects under-18s, finds Alcohol Concern

People under 18 can't buy alcohol and they can't vote, so as far as I'm concerned they can keep their opinions to themselves. But if some of the quotes reprinted in the report are genuine, we might as well pack our bags now. The final triumph of the nanny state cannot be far off.

“[Alcohol products] should contain shocking images like the image you see on packets of cigarettes, as you do not actually see how ill people can get from alcohol”

Female, 15 years-old

However, there are good reasons to doubt whether this survey is reliable.

The survey was disseminated via a targeted email (to youth groups, schools, local-authority youth services and interested individuals) and published on the Alcohol Concern website and on Twitter.

Indeed it was. Here is the tweet announcing it to the world...

The only to people to see this tweet would have been those who follow Alcohol Concern on Twitter, which is to say a self-selecting sample of temperance folk, 'public health professionals' and people like me who like to keep an eye on them. The people who visit the Alcohol Concern website are likely to have a similar bias.

These people will be predominantly adults but they might encourage their children to complete the survey, perhaps with a little helping hand.

Or they might just pretend to be children and fill it in themselves. After all, as the survey found, it is not hard to bypass online age checks...

Alcohol websites ask you to enter a date of birth to prove you are not under-18. Is this enough to stop under-18s from visiting these sites?

No, it's easy to enter another date: 78.2%

Yes, this is enough to stop me: 16.6%

Indeed. And this equally applies to Alcohol Concern's online survey which was strictly for the under-18s but whose only age verification process was this:

The survey itself was designed by 13 to 18 year olds (seriously) and it shows. A professional polling outfit would not resort to leading the witness as blatantly as this survey does. Take the introduction to the survey, for example (no longer online, but saved here):

Alcohol companies spend over £800 million each year in the UK on advertising (ads) to increase sales of their product. Under existing rules young people under 18-years-old should be protected from seeing most alcohol ads, but many studies show this isn't the case.

Today, advertising use technoloy to reach us in lots of different ways, like: TV; radio; cinema; billboard/posters; the internet; via mobile phones; through the sponsorship of music festivals and sports events; and even on football shirts... along with many other avenues.

You don't think all this talk of rampant alcohol advertising ("even on football shirts"!) and rules being breached could plant ideas in the respondent's mind, do you?

The report itself claims that...

The Youth Policy project specifically chose not to detail the existing alcohol-promotion regulations to The Voice or to survey participants, wanting to capture their expectations of alcohol-promotion regulation based on what young people see and hear around them.

These are weasel words. It is true that the survey doesn't "detail" the policies. Instead, it misrepresents them. Existing rules do not say that under-18s should be "protected" from seeing alcohol ads; it says that these ads must not target the under-18s. That is a big difference.

The report (and accompanying press release) emphasises in shocked tones that young people do not even recognise alcohol marketing when they see it.

The survey findings suggest that large numbers of young people regularly do not recognise alcohol marketing when it is channelled through sponsorship, product merchandise or via social networking sites – non-media channels known as ‘below the line’ promotion. Approximately half of young people do not consider alcohol promotion via such mediums as ‘marketing’, a finding which is consistent across both genders and all ages. This is of particular concern because investment in such strategies is increasing and is central to the alcohol industry’s efforts to associate with youth culture.

• 51.4% do not recognise official alcohol product Facebook groups as marketing

• 51.7% do not recognise alcohol branded events, such as festivals, as marketing

• 49.6% do not recognise alcohol sponsorship of football team shirts as marketing

• 49% do not recognise alcohol product merchandise as marketing.

The Guardian leads with this appalling insight into the ignorance of the young:

Most young people would like more protection from alcohol advertising, but under-18s do not recognise that drink logos on football shirts are a form of marketing, according to a survey.

This is extremely misleading. The question in the survey does not use the word 'marketing'. It uses the word 'ads'. Advertisements are clearly not the same thing as sponsorship, having a website or merchandising. All are forms of marketing, but they are not all forms of 'ads'. The actual question posed was:

Which of the following do you consider to be alcohol ads? (Tick as many boxes as you like)

• A viral video for an alcohol product

• Joining a Facebook group for an alcohol product (e.g. Smirnoff Facebook group)

• User generated content (e.g. an unofficial Facebook page for an alcohol product)

• A festival named after a product (e.g. Carling Weekend)

• A piece of alcohol product merchandise (e.g. Revolution bar’s ‘I love vodka’ t-shirts)

• Brand ambassadors (people who are paid to attend events and promote certain brands)

• Sponsorship of team shirts (e.g. football)

So, if you don't consider sponsorship to be an ad—which it isn't—or if you don't consider joining a Facebook group to be an 'ad'—which doesn't even make sense—then Alcohol Concern assume that you also don't think these things constitute marketing—which they are. This, they say, "is of particular concern."

Alcohol Con, on the other hand, are acutely aware of the difference between advertisements and marketing, which is presumably why they used the word 'ads' in the survey and the word 'marketing' in the report and press release. This sleight of hand is brushed over in the text of the report, which says...

"the term ‘ads’ was inserted by The Voice to encompass ‘marketing’, ‘advertising’ and ‘promotion’ as the group felt that these terms meant the same thing to most young people." 

Well, it doesn't, and not all kids are as thick as the ones who allegedly designed this survey. The change from 'ads' in the survey to 'marketing' in the final report must be regarded as highly suspect.

And finally, just in case the respondents hadn't quite worked out what the pollsters wanted to hear, the last question in the survey was:

Would you like to be kept informed of a youth led campaign that will challenge Government to reduce the amount of alcohol advertising we see?

No hint of a bias there then. Considering the standard of the survey, we can perhaps take heart that the majority of respondents still opposed Alcohol Concern's desired policy of a total ban on alcohol advertising on billboards, television and cinema.

Although the evidence suggests that a total ban on alcohol advertising would significantly reduce youth drinking, the majority of young people surveyed are not supportive of such strong regulatory intervention.

It also interesting that the under-11s were much keener or bans than the 16-17 year olds. Which just goes to show that neo-prohibitionism is a childish ideology that most people grow out of.


Anonymous said...

No worry,tell a kid no and all you will get is rebellion! I wouldnt believe their polls if they paid me! My going rate is 10 million pounds!


Anonymous said...

I figure in 5 years time Ive pumped out close to 80,000 comments against the bans across the globe! Im sure weve all had an impact on the nazis,destroying their JUNK SCIENCE....

CHRIS well done!


Anonymous said...

Chris, Sarah Boseley, who wrote the Guardian article is on Twitter, as I notice are you. Presumably you can send her a link to your post to remind her what journalism is.

Anonymous said...

This would be the perfect point in which to inject a "Little Johnny" joke, but I can't think of any relevant to Little Johnny's polling answer above.

SimonF said...


This is really worth a listen. Surprising the BBC allows it really.