Ofcom has announced new proposals to toughen up on alcohol advertising on television.

Advertising complaints and controversy increasingly go hand-in-hand with the alcoholic drinks industry. As Ofcom intensifies the pressure on UK manufacturers and retailers, advertisers in continental Europe are also being accused of overstepping the mark. Yet with added product clutter in most drinks segments, it remains crucial that marketers make use of attention grabbing themes.

Ofcom, the UK's communications watchdog, believes that current guidelines on the promotion of alcohol do not go far enough. The body has identified a number of problematic themes in advertisements that might attract children and young teenagers, condone anti-social behavior, promote binge drinking or suggest links between drinking and sexual success.

In particular, Ofcom has cited much of the advertising used to promote ready to drink (RTD) alcopops, which it believes is just as likely to attract under 18s as it is the target 18-24 year old audience. New proposals will seek to encourage advertisers to move towards more mature themes.

The UK is not the only country where RTD's and alcoholic advertising in general are creating controversy. A week ago, the European Court of Justice ruled in favor of the French government regarding the banning of either direct or indirect alcohol advertising on television in the country.

In Denmark, meanwhile, a record number of complaints were filed in 2003 against advertisements depicting alcoholic beverages together with ice-cream treats and scantily clad women. Only two weeks ago, an advertisement for Cult Shakers, a vodka energy drink mix, was banned from city hoardings after numerous complaints from individuals citing the advert's "blatant lesbian undertones".

The growing skepticism concerning RTD advertising presents the category with numerous problems. With increasing product proliferation resulting from the 'me-too' variants, the market has become highly saturated and sales of leading brands have declined. Therefore, creating big impact advertising messages, albeit through controversial themes, has become an important way to cut through the clutter.

Attention grabbing advertising is becoming increasingly difficult to achieve through mainstream media channels. As a result, it could well be that more industry players attempt to leverage both viral and word of mouth marketing. These mediums are effective channels for distributing messages not deemed suitable for mainstream media.