Alcohol Ads up 400% but Drinking Stays Same: Surprised?

Many people think alcohol ads cause increased alcohol drinking. Why else, they argue, would alcohol companies spend so much money on ads? Good question.

Companies don’t care about overall alcohol consumption. They only care about their own sales. Effective ads can increase a company’s share of the market. So 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 ad firms.  The general public doesn’t know it. So, many well-meaning advocacy groups work to get alcohol ads banned.  Philadelphia now prohibits such ads on city property. Both San Francisco and Los Angeles prohibit them on public transit.

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 these ads rose over 400% over a 40-year period. But drinking 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 ads for alcohol.

alcohol adsWhat has changed over time are preferences for particular brands. And also well as for specific categories of alcohol. 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 the effectiveness of ads. They may also result from changing demographics, income levels, and larger societal trends.

There’s an alternative to imposing restrictions on alcohol ads. Spend more time and resources informing the public about the dangers of abusive drinking.




Wilcox, G., et al.  Beer, wine, or spirits? Advertising’s impact on four decades of category sales. Int J Advertising.