Alcohol brands that are the most popular among underage drinkers are more likely to engage in sponsorships of organizations and events, especially those related to sports, music and entertainment, a new study co-authored by a BU School of Public Health researcher has found.
The findings of the study, published in the journal Addiction, show that sponsorship is “a significant strategy of alcohol marketers that generates brand capital through positive associations with integral aspects of culture and lifestyle,” the authors concluded. Problems of underage alcohol use, they said, “cannot be understood and addressed adequately without taking into account and . . . monitoring and measuring the impact of this highly prevalent form of alcohol marketing.”
The research team, led by Dr. Michael Siegel, professor of community health sciences at BUSPH, examined sponsorships of organizations and events in the U.S. from 2010 to 2013 by the top 75 brands of alcohol consumed by underage drinkers. The team identified 945 sponsorships during the study period.
The top categories of sponsorship were sports (269), arts and entertainment (167) and music (166). Overall, beer brands utilized the most sponsorships (417), followed by liquor brands, flavored alcoholic beverages and wine. A number of brands popular with young drinkers, such as Miller Lite and Miller Beers and Jack Daniel’s, had high numbers of sponsorships, compared to less popular brands.
In a logistic regression analysis, the most popular brands — those with a consumption prevalence of 5 percent or greater — were approximately 10 times more likely to utilize sponsorships than less popular brands. The average number of sponsorships for the most popular brands was 24, compared to 12 for the less popular brands. There were some exceptions to the pattern: Three brands—Twisted Tea, Pinnacle and Pabst Blue Ribbon—engaged in many sponsorships (a combined total of 132), despite being less popular brands among youth drinkers.
Overall, there was a large difference in the number of sponsorships by the top 10 brands for youth consumption prevalence, compared to the bottom 10 brands. The top 10 brands accounted for 420 sponsorships, compared to 87 for the bottom brands.
Siegel and co-authors, including graduate students from BUSPH and David H. Jernigan of the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, said the findings suggest that alcohol companies “build brand capital” by associating their labels “with aspects of American life for which audiences already have positive affect. For example, Bud Light builds on Americans’ love of football by being practically ubiquitous through its sponsorship of the National Football League.”
Some brand sponsorships appeal to specific “target audience” groups, the authors said. For example, Absolut vodka has used brand sponsorship to identify itself with the LGBT community, sponsoring events such as the Provincetown Carnival Week, RuPaul’s Drag Race, and gay pride festivals in Nashville, Indianapolis and other cities, the study noted.
The authors said they could not conclude that sponsorship is “causally connected” to underage drinking, in part because of the possibility that youth are merely mimicking adult drinking patterns. Regardless, they said, “it is difficult to imagine that with 166 music sponsorships—58 of them among the top 10 youth alcohol brands—these brands are not reaching youth.”
They said such marketing was of concern and worthy of further study.
“Our findings have important research, practice and policy implications,” they wrote. “First, they suggest that more research is needed to examine the potential impact of alcohol sponsorship on youth alcohol-related attitudes and drinking behavior. Secondly, they suggest that, as has been the case with tobacco, public health campaigns may be needed to discourage organizations from accepting alcohol industry sponsorship.”
They also said that, as with tobacco, the study points to “a potential need for legislation limiting alcohol brand sponsorship.”
Submitted by: Lisa Chedekel