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Marketers Dispute Youth-and-Alcohol Study
Findings Link Advertising to Increased Drinking

A study linking alcoholic-beverage advertising to increased drinking levels by teenagers and young adults is coming under fire from representatives of the marketing and alcoholic-beverage industries.

Ages 15 to 26

According to the study, people ages 15 to 26 who saw more alcoholic beverage ads on average drank more than their peers in markets where there was little alcohol advertising. The report, led by Leslie B. Snyder, director of the University of Connecticut’s Center for Health Communications and Health Marketing, looked at alcohol ad spending in 24 major markets and the amounts of alcohol consumed by young people. It will appear in the January issue of the Journal of the American Medical Association’s Archives of Pediatrics and Adolescent Medicine.

“Youth who lived in markets with more alcohol advertising drank more, increased their drinking levels more over time, and continued to increase drinking levels into their late 20s,” the report said. “Youth who lived in markets with less alcohol advertising drank less and showed a pattern of increasing their drinking modestly until their early 20s, when their drinking levels started to decline.”

Disputing the findings

Dick O'Brien, exec VP of the American Association of Advertising Agencies, disputed the findings. “We’ve seen over the last several decades that as alcohol-advertising spending increased, underage drinking substantially decreased. The raw facts of the marketplace contradict the main finding of the report,” he said.

A spokesman for Miller Brewing Co., a unit of SABMiller, noted that that the vast majority of youth in Roper Youth Reports cite their parents as having the most influence over whether they drink.

Alcohol critics were quick to point to the study to bolster their arguments. David Jernigan, executive director of the Center on Alcohol Marketing and Youth, called it “a landmark study that shows that alcohol advertising affects kids’ decision to drink” and called on alcohol companies to immediately move to limit their ads to media in which no more than 15% of the audience is under 21, down from 30%.

“Alcohol is the No. 1 drug problem among youth and given how serious the product is, it needs to be treated different than dish soap or dog biscuits,” he said. “The industry has for years argued that ads had no influence on kids. This study shows the advertising is reaching and influencing kids and the industry needs to adopt tighter self-regulation.”

1,900 consumers in 24 markets

The study was conducted with a random sample of about 1,900 people from 24 markets interviewed four times between April 1999 and January 2001. Overall, the age group surveyed had an average of 38.5 drinks per month, according the study. Consumption increased based on incremental increases in alcohol spending and exposure to ads, it found.

According to the survey, a 20-year-old man who saw five alcohol ads in a month and lived in a market with minimal per-capita ad expenditures was predicted to have nine drinks in the month. That goes up to 16 drinks if he sees 45 ads within the month. Consumption increases sharply for a man with the same profile but in a market with the highest per-capita ad spending. He would have 15 drinks if he reported minimal exposure to alcohol ads in a month but 26 if he saw many ads in that time frame.

 

James B. Arndorfer and Ira Teinowitz, Ad Age January 3, 2006

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