Cinderella – it’s time for a cocktail

It’s a Friday. It’s the school holidays early in the afternoon you take your two primary school aged children to a shopping centre cinema to watch the blockbuster school holiday hit – Cinderella.

Settling into watch the G-rated film you watch a series of beautifully produced advertisements waiting for the trailers for other films to start.

Following an action-packed advert promoting Queensland and its theme parks as a family holiday location you are surprised by the next ads.

Using the tagline “it’s time for a cocktail”, the ads that follow are quick visual lessons in how to make a cocktail, featuring Smirnoff Vodka, Johnnie Walker whisky, Tanqueray Gin and Schweppes soft drinks.

Cinema advertising is extremely expensive compared to other advertising because advertisers and cinema owners understand that viewers are a captive audience. As a parent of young children many of us would be upset about our young children being so blatantly advertised to.

Many of you might think that surely kids going to watch a daytime screening of Cinderella can’t be shown booze ads. Surely this didn’t happen. Surely there’s rules against showing booze ads to kids watching a G-rated film?

You’d be wrong.

Regular readers of GrogWatch will know our criticisms of the Alcohol Beverages Advertising Code (ABAC) Scheme – particularly on our views of the very limited effectiveness of industry-run, self-regulation.

In a recent judgement ABC was forced to admit that there are currently no rules (self-regulated or otherwise) that stop the above scenario from happening. In fact it did happen, and the parent involved made a complaint to the ABAC Panel.

The Panel found that while the Code does prevent the use of alcohol advertising concepts that ‘have strong or evident appeal to minors, there are no regulations preventing the showing of alcohol advertisements to children based on the rating of the film or the time of the day.

The ABAC Panel found:

Presumably, the assumption of the complainant is that there would be a relationship between a film’s classification and the type of the advertising that would be screened prior to the film. In the case of alcohol advertising, the assumption that the complainant may have made is that there would be restrictions which would limit alcohol advertising to, say, films given a ‘MA 15+’ or ‘R’classification. In this assumption, however, the complainant is mistaken.

Unlike free to air television, where there are restrictions on the broadcast time of alcohol advertising, there are no formal restrictions in place for alcohol advertising at cinemas. This means that the fact that the advertisements were screened in advance of the ‘G’ classified “Cinderella” movie is not of itself a breach of any applicable code or legal requirement.

Clearly this is not sufficient to protect young people. Regulators are going to struggle to limit young people’s growing exposure to alcohol marketing online – especially via social media. But protecting children in cinemas has an easy and straightforward answer.

As (the now defunct) ANPHA recommended in their Draft Report into Alcohol Advertisingthe direct advertising of alcohol products could almost immediately be restricted on-screen in cinemas before 8.30pm and after 5am if cinema operators voluntarily adopted a resolution.

Alternatively the Federal Communications Minister could restrict alcohol advertising in cinemas based on the time of the day or the rating of the film.

In the UK there are rules that restrict alcohol advertising for films that have strong appeal with younger audiences; this has been in place for over twenty years.

GrogWatch looks forward to the long-awaited release of the Final Report into Alcohol Advertising (it’s now been 15 months since the Draft Report was released, and while ANPHA has been disbanded, the Department of Health has assumed responsibility for ANPHA’s work). We hope that other parents who take their children to watch fairy-tale movies don’t find themselves watching more than they bargained for.