ESRC Identities and Social Action Research Programme                 


Branded consumption and social identification: Young people and alcohol


Principal Investigator: Dr Christine Griffin, Psychology, University of Bath


Dr Willm Mistral, Mental Health Research & Development Unit, University of Bath                

Professor Chris Hackley, Management, Royal Holloway University of London

Dr Isabelle Szmigin, The Business School, University of Birmingham


Research Assistants:

Andrew Bengry-Howell, Psychology, University of Bath

David Clarke, The Business School, University of Birmingham


There has been widespread concern in recent years over the extent of ‘excessive’ drinking amongst young people, including the relative increase in levels of alcohol consumption amongst young women. There is now a considerable body of research on young people’s drinking, especially underage drinking, much of which has used large-scale survey methods concerned to identify how much young people drink. However there remains a dearth of in-depth interview research involving ‘ordinary’ young adult drinkers, and studies have not kept pace with the increasing complexity and sophistication of current alcohol marketing and branding campaigns aimed at young people.


The Young People and Alcohol project will investigate the ways that alcohol advertising might shape young people’s identities, for example by encouraging them to see themselves as ‘cool’, as manly/feminine or attractive if they drink a particular product, or to view drinking to intoxication as normal or harmless. The study will focus on young adults in the 18 to 25 range, using an innovative combination of qualitative research methods to investigate the significance of alcohol for the construction of young people’s identities, and the role of branding in this process. We will analyse a selected sample of current alcohol adverts aimed at young people on TV, radio, magazines and the internet, examining the images and meanings associated with particular drinks. This will be followed by a series of informal group discussions with 60-70 young adults in three geographical locations: a major city centre in the English Midlands with a diverse population; a seaside town and a small market town in the West Country with more homogenous populations and a more limited range of drinking venues.


Respondents will be recruited from a range of gender, socio-economic and ethnic groups, including groups of students and locals from the inner city area. Finally, four in-depth case studies of young people’s drinking activities will be carried out in the three geographical locations, followed by individual interviews. The project involves an inter-disciplinary team of researchers with considerable expertise in academic research and work with relevant user groups, from service users and professionals working in alcohol and mental health services; the advertising industry and drinks manufacturers; and youth work and education.


The project will also involve a visit to Australia/New Zealand by the principal investigator (Dr Griffin) during 2007, to work with two groups of researchers engaged in similar studies and to disseminate the findings to an international audience. The study should provide valuable information for health educators, youth workers and others working in this area. It is also likely to have significant implications for the government’s Alcohol Strategy.



For more information please contact:


Dr Christine Griffin

Department of Psychology

University of Bath

Claverton Down

London Bath



This Project runs from April 2005 to September 2007