Alcohol, Advertising, and Youth
by David J. Hanson, Ph.D.
In 2003, alcohol beverage producers adopted a standard requiring that at least 70 percent of an alcohol advertisement’s audience should consist of adults ages 21 and older. That was an increase of 40 percent over the previous standard.
The Center for Alcohol Marketing and Youth (CAMY) now calls for producers to limit alcohol ads even more to media with audiences of at least 85 percent adults aged 21 or older.
However, research on alcohol ads in magazines and their readership has clearly demonstrated that limiting alcohol ads to magazines with 85 percent audience aged 21 or older would not reduce exposure of young people to such ads. In the words of economist Dr. Jon P. Nelson of Pennsylvania State University, such a requirement
would prohibit alcohol ads in many major magazines with large numbers of adult readers. But because the relationship between alcohol advertising and youth readership is non-existent, the 85 percent criterion would create costs for adults (who are readers) without any obvious benefits in terms of reductions in exposure of youth to images of alcohol consumption. 1
In addition, research around the world for decades by governments, health agencies and universities has demonstrated no causal relationship between viewing alcohol ads and the decision to begin drinking alcoholic beverages. In other words, seeing alcohol ads doesn’t cause young people to begin drinking. 2
Alcoholic beverage producers continue to advertise because, if effective, it can increase a brand’s share of total alcohol sales, which occurs at the expense of competitors, who lose sales and market share. 3