Alcohol Ads Don’t Target Underage Youth, Research Study Finds

Alcohol advertisements in magazines are directed to adults and do not target youth as alleged by critics, according to a comprehensive study Dr. Jon Nelson published in Contemporary Economic Policy.

Professor Nelson reviewed alcohol ads in 28 magazines in 2001-2003. The magazines included Better Homes and Gardens, Car and Driver, ESPN The Magazine, Glamour, People, Newsweek, Time, Popular Mechanics, Sports Illustrated, Spin, Shape, Self and Vogue. All of the sampled magazines accept alcohol ads. Some popular youth-oriented magazines such as Seventeen or YM that do not accept alcohol ads were not included in the study.

The economist analyzed them by demographics: the percentage of youth readers, adult median age, adult median real income, and percentage of adult male readers, and by magazine characteristics: circulation, single copy sales, content category, annual number of issues and advertisement cost per thousand readers.

The research revealed that the cost of the ad, the size of the audience, and the demographics of adults demographics significantly affected ad placements, but failed to find support for claims that advertisers target youth.

The study also noted that several recent literature reviews failed to prove that alcohol ads cause alcohol consumption. Effective advertisers increase market share, which they gain at the expense of their competitors, who lose market share.

"(P)olicy makers in the alcohol area would be well advised to turn their attention to discussion of matters of importance for youthful drinking behaviors, rather than decisions made in the market for advertising space," said Dr. Nelson, who is Professor Emeritus of Economics at Pennsylvania State University.

The study notes that the young adult population (ages 21-34) is 50 percent larger than the underage youth population (ages 12-20). The alcohol industry targets young adults through magazine ads because young adults drink more alcohol than older adults and have not yet established brand loyalties.

Nelson's study also criticized the methodology used by the Center on Alcohol Marketing and Youth (CAMY), a vocal industry critic, whose research has repeatedly been found to be seriously flawed and inadequate.

The research findings are consistent with earlier intensive investigations by the Federal Trade Commission (FTC), which have shown that alcohol advertising is directed to adults.

Other research repeatedly demonstrates that parents are the most influential factors in a youth's decisions about alcohol.


  • Nelson, Jon P. Alcohol advertising in magazines: Do beer, wine, and spirits ads target youth? Contemporary Economic Policy, July 2006, pp. 357-69; University of Pennsylvania. Study finds no support for claims that alcohol industry targets youth. University Press release, July 7, 2006; Friday, July 7, 2006; Alcohol Advertisements are Directed to Adults and Do Not Target Youth. U.S. Newswire press release, July 7, 2006.