Liquor Ads Influence the Young

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The number of ads for alcoholic beverages has increased significantly on cable between 2001 and 2004, with many of those spots viewed by potential underage drinkers.

According to a study released Dec. 12 by the Center on Alcohol Marketing and Youth at Georgetown University, the number of spots for alcoholic beverages on cable grew 3,392% over that four-year span.

The proliferation of ads watched by younger viewers came despite the distilled spirits industry’s self-regulation, according to the center’s research director, Dr. David Jernigan. “Exposure to alcohol ads influences youth drinking behavior,” Jernigan said in a statement. “Kids need to see fewer of these messages glamorizing alcohol use, not more.”

The center’s study said that liquor ads on cable climbed to 37,328 last year from 645 in 2001.

Cabletelevision Advertising Bureau CEO Sean Cunningham said that those statistics must be put into context. The Distilled Spirits Council of the United States Inc. — the liquor-industry advisory board that kept ads for hard alcohol off TV for years — had just lifted that prohibition by 2001, so the study started with an extremely low number of cable spots, he noted.

DISCUS promotes guidelines for media regarding where it is appropriate to place alcohol ads. Commercials are not to be placed in any program where less than 70% of the audience is of drinking age, according to the council.

Cunningham said both agencies and networks take the subject of alcohol ads seriously. Most CAB members use DISCUS as a baseline, along with their own standards. For instance, alcohol ads can’t feature animation or such youth-appeal personalities as professional wrestlers.

According to the CAMY study, distilled-spirits advertising totaled $53.6 million in business for cable in 2004, compared to $1.5 million from such ads in 2001.

During the same period, beer marketers raised their investment in cable from $137 million (38,810 commercials) in 2001 to $211 million (82.559 spots) last year.

The study also asserts that young people see more alcohol ads on cable than broadcast. In 2001, viewers aged 12 to 20 saw three alcohol ads for every four viewed by adults on cable, but the ratio on broadcast was a little over one ad viewed by youth for every two seen by adults.

Three years later that ratio decreased on broadcast, to less than one for every two seen by adults. But on cable, exposure grew to four alcohol ads viewed by youth for every five seen by adults.

The study concluded that the alcohol industry is not meeting its own 70% adult audience standard, suggesting that the industry adopt more-stringent rules.