Developing an alternative alcohol advertising complaint review system: lessons from a world-first public health advocacy initiative
The Alcohol Advertising Review Board (AARB) is an alternative complaint review service that uses community engagement, media advocacy and communication with policy makers to encourage effective regulation of alcohol advertising. The AARB’s approach could be replicated where there is a need to strengthen regulation of advertising that contributes to poor public health outcomes, including for unhealthy food and gambling.
Young people in Australia are frequently exposed to alcohol marketing. Leading health organisations recommend legislative controls on alcohol advertising as part of a comprehensive approach to reduce alcohol-related harm. However, Australia relies largely on industry self-regulation.
This paper describes the development and implementation of the Alcohol Advertising Review Board (AARB), a world-first public health advocacy initiative that encourages independent regulation of alcohol advertising. The AARB reviews complaints about alcohol advertising, and uses strategies such as media advocacy, community engagement and communicating with policy makers to highlight the need for effective regulation. In 4 years of operation, the AARB has received more complaints than the self-regulatory system across a similar period. There has been encouraging movement towards stronger regulation of alcohol advertising.
Key lessons include the importance of a strong code, credible review processes, gathering support from reputable organizations, and consideration of legal risks and sustainability. The AARB provides a unique model that could be replicated elsewhere.
Moves to curb alcohol promotion will inevitably take time, and are fiercely resisted by a powerful global industry.
The AARB is an innovative approach that draws attention to concerns about advertising self-regulation and communicates the need for independent regulation of unhealthy advertising. There have already been noticeable impacts, including the removal of advertisements and moves by state governments towards stronger regulation. Because significant impacts of advocacy can occur out of public view and across extended time periods, the AARB’s true effect is expected to be even greater than what has already been observed.
The approach may be relevant for other countries seeking government action to address marketing practices that are contrary to public health objectives.