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Young people ages 12-20 saw more television advertising for beer and ale in 2001 than for fruit juices and fruit-flavored drinks; gum; skin care products; cookies and crackers; chips, nuts, popcorn and pretzels; sneakers; non-carbonated soft drinks; or sportswear jeans.
Center on Alcohol Marketing and Youth Television: Alcohol's Vast Adland
In 2002, the U.S. alcohol industry spent nearly $2 billion to convince consumers to purchase specific brands of beer, wine and spirits.2 Although Canada represents a much smaller market, ACNielsen estimates that in 2002 Canadian brewers and distillers spent more than $160 million to advertise their beverages. (This number does not include advertising expenditures by provincial liquor boards – which are also significant.)
Should we be concerned? It's well established that alcohol use plays a substantial role in the three leading causes of death among teens and young adults: accidental injuries, suicides and murders.3 In addition, many young people begin drinking at a young age (in Ontario nearly 40 per cent of Grade 7 students drink alcohol).4 Add to this the engaging, interactive and unregulated milieu of the Internet, and marketers have a potent mix of platforms from which to target youth.
Child development experts have voiced concerns about the possible links between children's exposure to alcohol advertising and the development of attitudes about alcohol and drinking habits. The countless alcohol-related media young people are exposed to reinforce the idea that alcohol consumption is an everyday activity – nothing more than harmless, rebellious fun.
Constant exposure to alcohol products – especially at an early age –increases positive expectations about drinking.5 For example, a study of Anheuser-Busch's 1995 frog campaign found 81 per cent of children ages 9-11 recognized the Budweiser frogs, and more recalled the Budweiser slogan than slogans of other products advertised during the same viewing period.6 (This campaign was also immensely popular with 18-29-year-olds.)
Many alcohol ads play on the theme that drinking is the primary ritual into adulthood in our society. Others turn soft drinks into alcoholic drinks. In 2001 the alcohol industry introduced 130 new spirits, 46 new beers and 103 new wines. Many of these were sweet products clearly designed to appeal to new drinkers, that is, young people. These included chocolate and raspberry beer, gelatin shots, hard cider, hard lemonade, liquor popsicles, and drinks with alcohol premixed with milk, cola, jello and ice cream.
Although most children don't start drinking until the pre-teen or teen years, belief in media messages that drinking is a positive or desirable activity is already developing by age six. Children who receive little or no information about alcohol from other sources are most likely to believe the messages in alcohol ads.7
Three factors affect the influence of alcohol advertising on pre-adolescents:
The extent of media exposure can also play a role. It's believed that children who watch more television – especially during weekends and prime time – are more receptive to the messaging in alcohol ads than children who are less frequent viewers. This is especially true for advertisements that appear during favourite shows and sports programming.9 Alcohol also appears in two thirds of the most popular programming for teens – sports, sitcoms, music videos, horror movies and dramas – and is most often depicted in a positive light.10
The pervasiveness of alcohol advertising extends beyond television and movies. Alcohol companies routinely place ads in magazines with large youth readerships, such as Rolling Stone, Vibe, Spin, Sports Illustrated, Allure and Glamour.11 In the U.S., 73 per cent of radio alcohol advertising is placed within music venues that attract youth audiences – rhythmic, pop, urban and alternative12 – and over half of rap music makes reference to alcohol. Cross-marketing, through clothing, brand-related products and special promotions, ensures that alcohol brands and slogans are firmly entrenched in the popular culture.
Research suggests that children and adolescents tend to learn more about alcohol from television and beer advertising than from more balanced sources such as parents, leaving them more knowledgeable about brands of beer than about potential health risks associated with drinking.
The Role of Interpretation Processes and Parental Discussion in the Media's Effects on Adolescents' Use of Alcohol, 2000.
Advertising is just one part of a continuum of factors that contribute to a young person's inclination to drink. Other contributing factors are heredity, personality and behavioural traits, peer and family influences, environment and societal attitudes.
An educational response to this issue must consider each of these potential influences in order to help students better understand and contextualize the multiple – and often conflicting – messages they receive about drinking. Equally important is parental involvement at home in encouraging discussion about alcohol messages in media. Studying these messages gives young people the opportunity to consider all the factors that contribute to underage drinking habits, and to compare and contrast their own attitudes and perceptions of young people with those projected by marketers.
Early years: Current research suggests Grades 3 and 4 are critical years in the formation of expectancies about alcohol,13 so this is a good time for parents and teachers to start helping children think critically about what they see and to introduce them to the marketing strategies advertisers use to create positive associations with alcoholic beverages.
Middle years: This age group represents a critical period for decision-making about alcohol consumption. Today in Ontario, 66 per cent of students in Grades 7-12 drink, with 25 per cent drinking at least twice a month and 12 per cent drinking at least once a week.14 Although young teens may lack the life experience to judge mass media messages, with guidance they can develop the critical skills they need to understand: explicit and implicit messaging in ads. the perspective and intentions of programmers and characters. and the impact of production techniques.15
Older teens: Studies have shown that once teens start to drink, alcohol ads on TV do not affect their drinking habits.16 However, it has been found that wine and alcohol consumption by 18-year-old girls is directly related to television viewing between the ages of 13 and 15,17 and that young men who are good at remembering beer ads at 15 years of age, tend to be heavy drinkers when they are 18.18
Because of this, older teens need to question the broader, societal ramifications of the alcohol industry and alcohol advertising: their rights and roles as consumers, the true cost of alcohol consumption, and the tension between current regulations relating to the marketing of alcohol to minors and advertising strategies that fly in the face of these laws. They need to be given the opportunity to measure the effectiveness of anti-drinking campaigns and assume a proactive stance by creating their own strategies for providing realistic messages about drinking to peers and younger children.
1 V.C. Strasburger and E. Donnerstein, "Children, Adolescents, and the Media: Issues and Solutions." Pediatrics, 103:(1):129-139, 1999. As quoted in "Stop Liquor Ads on TV: Talking Points." Center for Science in the Public Interest, http://www.cspinet.org/booze/liquorads/liquor_talkingpoints.htm.
2 "Summary: Youth Exposure to Alcohol Advertising" 2003. Center on Alcohol Marketing and Youth.
4 Diane McKenzie, "Under the Influence? The Impact of Alcohol Advertising on Youth," 2000. Association to Reduce Alcohol Promotion in Ontario, http://www.apolnet.ca/resources/pubs/respapers/araporesearchpaper.html.
5 E. Moreau, E.W. Austin and C. Knaus, "Effects of Advertising and Sponsorships in Sports and Children's Expectations about Alcohol," 2000. Edward R. Murrow School of Communication, Washington State University.
6 D. McKenzie, 2000.
7 E. Moreau et al., 2000.
9 D. McKenzie, 2000.
11 Executive Summary of "Over Exposed: Youth a Target of Alcohol Advertising in Magazines," 2002. Center on Alcohol Marketing and Youth.
12 Executive Summary of "Radio Daze: Alcohol Ads Tune in Underage Youth," 2003. Center on Alcohol Marketing and Youth.
13 E.W. Austin and K.K. Johnson, "Effects of General and Alcohol Specific Media Literacy Training on Children's Decision Making about Alcohol." Journal of Health Communication, 2, 1997.
14 E.M. Adlaf and A. Paglia, "Drug Use Among Ontario Students, 1977-2003," 2003. Toronto: Centre for Addiction and Mental Health.
15 E.W. Austin and K. K. Johnson, 1997.
16 T.N. Robinson, H.L. Chen and J.D. Killen, "Television and Music Video Exposure and Risk of Adolescent Alcohol Use." Pediatrics 102: 5, 1998.
17 G.M. Conolly, S. Casswell, J. Zhang and P.A. Silva, "Alcohol in the Mass Media and Drinking by Adolescents: A Longitudinal Study." Addiction 89: 1255-1263, 1994.
18 D. McKenzie, 2000
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