It’s no secret that alcohol beverage companies want people to drink, drink more, and be loyal to their brand. They do this by advertising to a wide market, through targeting specific demographics less likely to drink their advertised product, altering prices to appeal to specific age-groups or demographics, and creating colorful labels to appeal specifically to those markets.
Each year these companies spend billions on ads to make every member of your family think it’s okay to drink, it’s cool to drink, it’s acceptable, and it’s affordable. And while they spend a few billion to get this message out, our country pays upwards of $600-700 billion annually to repair the damage from auto-related accidents, physical injury and death, loss of production, damages, and associated legal costs from excess drinking.
Aware of the impact of advertising on youth, the federal government has attempted to regulate when ads can be aired on television and obvious marketing attempts to children. However, one 2008 study conducted in Boston, MA examined youth exposure to alcoholic beverage ads while riding on the Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority transit lines and found that more than half of all Boston Public School passengers viewed at least one ad on a daily basis just riding to and from school.
Despite regulations, ads for alcoholic beverages are pervasive within our society and result in more people drinking, a greater variety of people drinking, and more general acceptance of alcohol consumption across the board.
Studies Indicate Alcohol Ads Increase Drinking
Between movies, magazines, television, and public advertising, advertisements reach a broad audience. Regulations help some, but with close to 350,000 television ads featuring alcohol appearing each year, and millions spent on magazine, billboard, and ads along public transit, it’s nearly impossible to limit youth exposure to the onslaught of these campaigns.
One 2006 study linked exposure to ads to an increase in problem drinking. The two-year study examined more than 20 media markets and correlated an increase in drinking with greater exposure to alcohol across these markets.
Another study published a decade ago assessing the impact of media and television ads on seventh and eighth graders, determined exposure to commercials for alcoholic beverages increased risk of subsequent drinking by 44 percent within that age category.
A comprehensive study by the National Institutes of Health (NIH) indicates that not only does repeated exposure to alcohol-related advertising increase brand awareness, but it also increases brand loyalty and favorable thinking about alcohol consumption even before someone has begun to drink alcohol.
The Hollywood Effect On Binge Drinking
From cartoons like The Simpsons to adult television shows like Sex in the City to movies like The Hangover, alcohol is glorified and glamorized. The Hangover made binge drinking part of a fun and exciting adventure, and even the negative consequences achieved a kind of reverence.
One NIH study revealed that persons 14-18 years old are exposed to alcohol-related content on television in 77 percent of accessible content. And this age group isn’t just watching ‘of age’ people get drunk. Portrayals of underage drinkers is common. Drinking in popular culture equates with social fun and strong bonds between other members of an individual’s social group, when in reality it can have the opposite effect.
Music And Acceptance Of Alcohol
The music industry is equally cavalier about youth acceptance of binge drinking. Katy Perry’s “Last Friday Night” which features lyrics, “We danced on tabletops, we took too many shots,” or Mark Ronson’s Uptown Funk’s “Stop, wait a minute, fill my cup, put some liquor in it,” or Kesha singing about “brushing her teeth with a bottle of Jack” in “Tik Tok,” youth are regularly exposed to an uncensorable onslaught of the promotion of drinking by their pop icons.
Many songs charted on Billboard are not just singing about drinking, but excessive drinking. This glorification of binge drinking becomes subliminal whether that is the intended result or not. Imitation of pop stars in everything from fashion to their perceived actions creates an environment in which people are regularly exposed to and make positive associations with alcohol consumption.
Catch Phrases And Characters Promoting Alcohol Acceptance
“Tastes great, less filling!” My husband recounted a story from his youth in which he attended a boy scout camp and remembers half of a group of eight and nine year olds numbering around 200, chanting the first part of this 1987 Miller Lite ad campaign slogan, while the other half concluded it. Not to be outdone, Budweiser introduced their own catch phrase, “Never fills you up, never lets you down.” And don’t forget those adorable frogs singing “Bud Weis Er” in the 1995 Super Bowl commercial. These cartoon-like characters appeal to younger age groups and, again, promote the steadfast assertion that consumption of alcohol is a harmless, fun act.
It’s unfortunate the alcoholic beverage campaigns can’t be asked to show the true consequences of underage drinking, binge drinking, and alcohol addiction. The reality is much less glamorous and the consequences can prove fatal, with more than two and a half million people dying worldwide each year from excessive alcohol use. And nearly 9 percent of those are individuals between 15 and 29 years old, primary targets of most alcoholic beverage ad campaigns.
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