Alcohol ads are popularly believed to cause increased alcohol consumption. Why else, it is argued, would alcohol companies spend so much money on advertising? Good question.
Companies don’t care about overall alcohol consumption. They only care about their own sales. Effective advertising can increase a company’s share of the market. Therefore, each company wants to spend more money on alcohol ads. If one company gains share, others lose theirs.
This has long been known by alcohol companies and their advertising firms. The general public doesn’t know it. So, many well-meaning advocacy groups work to get alcohol ads banned. Philadelphia now prohibits alcohol ads on city property. Both San Francisco and Los Angeles prohibit them on public transportation. Research suggests that this is wasted effort. It simply deprives the cities of needed revenue.
Researchers at the University of Texas at Austin found that the total money spent for alcohol advertising rose over 400% between 1971 and 2011. But consumption per person was roughly the same at the end of the 40 year period. During those four decades billions of dollars had been spent on alcohol ads.
What has changed significantly over time are preferences for particular brands as well as for specific categories of alcoholic beverage. For example, since the early 1990s, the popularity of beer has dropped, especially among younger adults. These changes in consumption patterns may result not only from differential effectiveness of advertising. They may also result from changing demographics, income levels, and larger societal trends.
The researchers suggest that there’s an alternative to imposing restrictions on alcohol ads. Spend more time and resources informing the public about the dangers of excessive alcohol consumption.
Source: Wilcox, G.B., et al. Beer, wine, or spirits? Advertising’s impact on four decades of category sales. International Journal of Advertising: The Review of Marketing Communications, 2015. DOI:10.1080/02650487.2015.1019961
Readings on alcohol ads
Blount, K. What’s your Poison?: Addictive Advertising of the ’40s – ’60s. Portland, OR: Collectors Press, 2005.
Cherrington, J., et al. Relocating alcohol advertising research. J Hlth Psy., 2006, 11(2), 209-222
Dade, P. Drink Talking: 100 Years of Alcohol Advertising. London: Middlesex U Press, 2008.
Dring, C., and Hope, A. The Impact of Alcohol Advertising on Teenagers in Ireland. Dublin, Ireland: Health and Children, 2001.
Center on Alcohol Marketing and Youth (CAMY). Radio Daze: Alcohol Ads Tune in Underage Youth. Washington, DC: CAMY, 2003. This and other CAMY reports have been widely criticized for their lack of scientific peer review. Also for their serious logical and methodological errors.
Fisher, J.C., and Cook, PA. Advertising, Alcohol Consumption, and Mortality: an Empirical Investigation. Westport, CT: Greenwood, 1995.
Gunter, B., Hansen, A., and Touri, M. Alcohol Advertising and Young People’s Drinking. NY: Palgrave Macmillan, 2010.
Hamilton, C. Absolut: Biography of a Bottle. NY and London: Texere.
Hughes, J. Still Going Strong. A History of Scotch Whisky Advertising. Stroud, UK: Tempus, 2005.
Jernigan, D.H. Framing a public health debate over alcohol advertising. The Center on Alcohol Marketing and Youth 2002’“2008. J Pub Hlth Pol., 2011, 32(2), 165’“179.
Newman, L.M. Does Advertising Promote Substance Abuse? Detroit, MI: Thomson/Gale, 2005.
Pennock, P.E. Advertising Sin and Sickness. The Politics of Alcohol and Tobacco Marketing, 1950-1990. DeKalb, IL: Northern Illinois U Press, 2007.
Saffer;, H., and Dhaval, D. Alcohol Advertising and Alcohol Consumption by Adolescents. Cambridge, MA: NBER, 2003.
Selvanathen, E.A., and Clements, K.W. Recent Developments in Applied Demand Analysis. Alcohol, Advertising and Global Consumption. Berlin and New York: Springer, 1995.
Wilcox, G., et al. Liquor advertising and consumption in the United States: 1971’“2008. Int J Adver., 2012, 31(4), 1-17.
Worsnop, R.L. Alcohol Advertising. Washington, DC: CQ Press, 1997.