Marketing Booze to Teens

Alcohol marketing and brand placement is overlapping the underage market

/ Author:  / Reviewed by: Joseph V. Madia, MD

(RxWiki News) If drinking looks cool in TV shows and feels good, why should teens stay sober? Most teens don't know or don't care that binge drinking is unhealthy and dangerous. Nor do alcohol advertisements show that part of drinking.

A recent study showed that the prevalence of binge drinking in a group of teens aged 15-20 years old was about one third. Moreover, symptoms of depression were reported by 51 percent study participants.

“There is growing evidence that alcohol marketing is reaching adolescents and young adults, that they respond to it, and that their response is associated both with initiation of alcohol use and with progression to problem drinking,” said the lead author.

"Talk to your kids about alcohol."

Auden C. McClure, MD, MPH, assistant professor of pediatrics at the Geisel School of Medicine at Dartmouth, was the lead author in this investigation. In the study background, authors said, “Alcohol companies are bound only by voluntary codes and advertise broadly in many venues accessible to underage youth.”

In 2005, 73 percent of alcohol in the US was made and sold by only 12 companies, which spent over $3 billion in US advertising and promotions. For the study, 1,734 American 15- to 20-year-olds were recruited to answer questions about their alcohol consumption and alcohol marketing exposure.

Questions about alcohol marketing exposure included: television time, Internet time, favorite alcohol advertisement, ownership of alcohol-branded merchandise (ABM) and exposure to alcohol brands in movies.

After alcohol consumption habits were documented, researchers calculated the rate of exposure to alcohol-related media and binge drinking episodes within the last 30 days.

Details concerning expectations of alcohol buzz, ideals of acceptable alcohol behavior and favored alcohol brand(s) were calculated with the binge drinking episode information.

Results of the study showed that 73 percent of respondents said most of his/her friends drank alcohol, 33 percent owned ABM and 18 percent had a favorite alcohol advertisement.

Researchers found 226 popular movies had 499 alcohol brand appearances at a rate of 35 percent in PG-rated, 59 percent in PG-13 and 55 percent in R-rated movies.

A total of 20 percent of the group identified as a “drinker”, 11 percent saw drinking as “part of who I am” and 8 percent said, “drinking is part of my personality.”

A total of 82 percent said most/all of their friends had been drunk at least once, 54 percent believed alcohol to be relaxing and 49 percent agreed alcohol would make them more likely to have sexual intercourse.

Overall, 32 percent had participated in binge drinking, which is more than five drinks in one sitting, and 12 percent had participated in four or more episodes of binge drinking.

Symptoms of depression were reported by 51 percent of the group.

Dr. McClure said, “Early onset of alcohol use is linked to alcohol dependence later in life, making both prevention and early intervention of risk behaviors important.”

Even if alcohol ads were less prevalent, brand-placement marketing, where a particular brand is consumed by TV or movie characters, still effectively advertises alcohol consumption and generated brand loyalty.

Dr. McClure said, “Marketing theory suggests that advertising serves to develop brand identity for particular products and ultimately brand allegiance in customers.”

“A better understanding of the path between marketing and risk behaviors could help parents, healthcare providers, clinical psychologists, and substance use treatment specialists to identify and intervene when an adolescent is at risk.”

This study was published in December in Alcoholism: Clinical & Experimental Research. Funding was supported by a grant from the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism. No conflicts of interest were reported.

Reviewed by: 
Review Date: 
December 31, 2012
Last Updated:
August 14, 2013