CAMY repeatedly asserts that alcohol producers “target” underage persons with their advertising. It argues that if they advertise in, for example, a publication that has over 15.8% readers under the age of 21 (the proportion of adolescents in the population), they are “targeting” underage readers. CAMY’s study method actually defines targeting to be an adolescent ad exposure of over 15.8%.
Enter the Statistical Assessment Service (STATS) at George Mason University, an independent organization that examines science issues in the news. STATS explains that CAMY’s logic is that “a magazine that appeals to more youth than the population average is one that alcohol companies would avoid if they weren’t “targeting” youth.”
That logic requires some questionable assumptions and leaps of faith. And it’s impossible to direct ads to those age 21-30 without younger readers also seeing the ads. An alternative approach is to examine empirically the factors that alcohol companies use in selecting magazines for ad placements.
This was done by Dr. Jon Nelson, Emeritus Professor of Economics at Pennsylvania State University and published in Contemporary Economic Policy. Prof. Nelson identified factors that might effect advertising decisions, such as the cost of the ads, the circulation of the magazine, the proportion of readers under the age of 21, sales outlets, the subject matter of the magazine, and demographics such as race and income.
According to Dr. Nelson’s research, “the proportion of young readers among the readership did not make much difference. The influential factors were the size of the audience (not just how many people bought the magazine, but how many actually read it), and how much an ad costs per 1,000 copies in circulation.”