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Drunk on Ads
Of the $4.9 billion the alcohol industry spent on television advertisements from 2001 to 2005, only 2 percent was spent on "responsibility" ads, according to a June report by the Center on Alcohol Marketing and Youth (CAMY) at Georgetown University.
The study found that underage youth were 239 times more likely to see an advertisement selling alcohol than one of the industry's "responsibility" advertisements, designed to educate about the dangers of underage drinking.
"The primary messages kids get about alcohol on television are from alcohol product ads that not surprisingly promote their use and enjoyment," says David Jernigan, CAMY executive director. "To look just to the industry for messages on responsibility is clearly not smart public policy."
Of the 174 alcohol brands that advertised on television in 2005, only 19 sponsored "responsibility" advertisements. However, that number was higher in 2005 than in any prior year.
Previous studies have shown that the more advertising young people are exposed to, the more likely they are to drink or increase their alcohol consumption. According to the U.S. Surgeon General, alcohol is the most widely used drug by youth age 12 to 20 in the United States, and underage drinking is responsible for 5,000 deaths per year in this age group.
"Our findings clearly show that the alcohol industry's efforts to fight underage drinking through television advertising are never going to match its product advertising," says Jernigan. "We need a substantial national commitment if we expect our children to get a balanced message from television."
Soon viewers may be able to tune into a home shopping television channel focused entirely on pharmaceuticals. Four of the world's largest pharmaceutical companies are working their way across Europe, lobbying for a change in direct-to-consumer advertising restrictions.
The companies, Johnson & Johnson, Pfizer, Novartis and Procter & Gamble, have proposed an interactive digital television channel funded by the industry. The channel would feature health news and, of course, detailed information about the latest branded drugs.
The International Society of Drug Bulletins (ISDB) warns against the idea and points out that in the United States and New Zealand - where direct-to-consumer advertising is legal - studies have shown the advertising to be detrimental to health.
"Pharmaceutical companies' messages are focused on relatively few top sellers, exaggerating effects and concealing risks, confusing patients and putting pressure on doctors to prescribe drugs they would not use otherwise," the ISDB says. "Lack of comparative information in advertising means people cannot choose among several options."
The industry argues that lifting advertising restrictions would benefit patients. The television channel, called the European Patient Information Channel, could be available on the Internet as well and would offer "on demand" information about drugs "to enable patients and citizens to make better decisions," says Scott Ratzan of Johnson & Johnson.
Coke's New World
Deciding to pay tribute to itself, Coca-Cola Co. opened in Atlanta in May a 92,000-square-foot, $96 million museum. Featuring a movie theater, a 29.5-foot-high contour Coke bottle and more than 1,000 pieces of memorabilia, the New World of Coca-Cola expects about a million visitors a year.
The museum will showcase a miniature bottling line and offer a tasting area where visitors can sample the approximately 70 drinks produced by Coke, including a Japanese soda containing vegetable juice called Vegitabeta. Coca-Cola CEO E. Neville Isdell calls the new museum a "manifestation" of Coke's "mission, vision and values."
Coca-Cola isn't alone in its bid to promote its products through museums and interactive technology. Companies are looking for new ways to "take brand attributes and let people experience them one on one," says Bruce Weindruch, chief executive of the History Factory, which helps develop corporate museums.
Next year, Harley-Davidson Inc. plans to open a $75 million museum in Milwaukee filled with more than 400 motorcycles dating to the company's earliest years. And Hershey Co.'s Chocolate World, which first opened in 1973, updated its Great American Chocolate Tour ride in 2006, adding special effects and a trio of singing cows.
Coca-Cola visitors will be charged entrance fees between $9 (for children) and $15 (for adults), but Coke says it doesn't plan to use the museum to make a profit. And every visitor gets to leave with an 8-ounce bottle of Coke.
- Jennifer Wedekind