The Department of Health and COI Communications want the campaign to tell young people that "it's not cool to get drunk". But Whitehall insiders admitted that the budget, to be spread over three years, would be "a drop in the ocean" compared with the £200 million spent by the drinks industry advertising its products.
Although the limited spend may rule out TV spots, officials hope the ads will be hard-hitting, along the lines of those about smoking and drink-driving, and attract widespread media attention. "It will try to get across, through peer pressure, an attitudinal change that the idea of going out on Friday and Saturday night and drinking as much as possible is not really a very cool thing to do," a Cabinet Office spokeswoman said.
In a strategy on alcohol abuse published this week, the Government conceded that its current sensible drinking message, based on units of alcohol for men and women, was out of date and not working.
It announced that Ofcom would undertake a review by this autumn of the code of practice for TV advertising "to ensure that it does not target young drinkers or glamourise irresponsible behaviour".
The report said there was "widespread concern that some alcohol advertisements breach the spirit, if not the letter, of the TV advertising code" by condoning excessive drinking, linking alcohol with sexual and social success, encouraging irresponsible behaviour and covertly targeting young people.