Young Drinkers Saturated with Ads for the Brands They Consume, Study Finds

Posted on: July 11, 2014 Topics: Community Health Sciences

The brands of alcohol popular with underage drinkers also happen to be the ones heavily advertised in magazines that young people read, a new study co-authored by a BU School of Public Health researcher finds.

The findings, reported in July’s Journal of Studies on Alcohol and Drugs, add to evidence that alcohol ads can encourage young people to drink.

They also suggest that the alcohol industry’s self-imposed standards on advertising are inadequate, said lead researcher Craig Ross of the Natick, Ma.-based Virtual Media Resources.

“All of the ads in our study were in complete compliance with the industry’s self-regulatory guidelines,” Ross said. According to those standards, alcohol ads should be placed only in magazines where less than 30 percent of the readers are younger than 21.

Yet, based on the new findings, underage readers see plenty of glossy magazine ads for beer and distilled spirits

The study is the latest in a series co-authored by BUSPH’s Michael Siegel, professor of community health sciences, and colleagues from Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health.

For the study, Siegel and colleagues examined alcohol ads that ran in U.S. magazines in 2011—with a particular eye toward the top 25 alcohol brands consumed by youth under the legal drinking age. They found that, overall, those brands appeared much more effective in reaching young magazine readers, versus 308 other alcohol brands that are less popular with the underage crowd.

Manufacturers of 11 of the 25 brands most popular with underage males exposed 18- to 20-year-olds most heavily. The same was true for 16 of the top 25 brands among underage females.

In all, those popular brands were five to nine times more likely to have 18- to 20-year-olds in their most heavily exposed audience, compared with all other brands.

“We can’t speak to what advertisers’ intentions are,” said study co-author David Jernigan, director of the Center on Alcohol Marketing and Youth (CAMY) at the Bloomberg School of Public Health. “But we can say there is clear evidence that 18- to 20-year-olds are the most heavily exposed to these ads.”

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