Multinational Monitor

JUL/AUG 2008
VOL 30 No. 1


No Escape: Marketing to Kids in the Digital Age
by Jeff Chester and Kathryn Montgomery

The Youngest Market: Baby Food Peddlers Undermine Breastfeeding
by Annelies Allain and Joo Kean

Intoxicating Brands: Alcohol Advertising and Youth
by David Jernigan

How Things Work: The FTC's Revolving Door
by Robert Weissman

Fighting Demons: Addressing the Perils of Financial Innovation
by Richard Bookstaber


Commercializing Childhood: The Corporate Takeover of Kids' Lives
an interview with Susan Linn

Pill Pushers: Pharmaceutical Marketing in an Overmedicated Nation
an interview with Melody Petersen

Reverend Billy and the Church of Stop Shopping
an interview with Bill Talen

The Debt Creators: Shady Lending, Misleading Marketing and Hard Times
an interview with José García


Letters to the Editor

Behind the Lines

Marketing Mania, Commercial Colonization

The Front
Freedom Flows in South Africa | Development and the Desert

The Lawrence Summers Memorial Award

Greed At a Glance

Commercial Alert

Names In the News


Intoxicating Brands:  Alcohol Advertising and Youth

by David Jernigan

People were drinking alcohol long before the alcohol industry hooked up with Madison Avenue, but the beer, wine and liquor companies clearly believe advertising affects consumption patterns.

Alcohol companies spend close to $2 billion every year advertising in the United States alone. From 2001 to 2007, they aired more than 2 million television ads and published more than 20,000 magazine advertisements.

Such heavy advertising inevitably leads to heavy youth exposure. That so much of the industry’s advertising is aired on programming, or published in magazines, with large youth audiences makes this problem much worse.

From 2001 to 2007, youth exposure to alcohol product advertising on television rose by 38 percent. The average number of television advertisements seen in a year by youth increased from 216 to 301.

In 2007, approximately one out of every five alcohol product advertisements on television was on programming that youth ages 12 to 20 were more likely per capita to see than adults of the legal drinking age. Almost all of them were on cable television, where distilled spirits companies in particular have dramatically increased their alcohol advertising in the past seven years. This large and increasing TV exposure offset reductions in magazine exposure over the same time period.

The data comes from researchers with the Center on Alcohol Marketing and Youth at Georgetown University (CAMY) and Virtual Media Resources (VMR) of Natick, Massachusetts, who analyzed the placements of 2,033,931 alcohol product advertisements that aired on television between 2001 and 2007, and 19,466 alcohol advertisements placed in national magazines between 2001 and 2006.

All of this advertising — and other industry marketing strategies — matters. Heavier youth exposure to advertising leads to more alcohol consumption, researchers have found. Alcohol use and abuse takes a serious, direct toll on youth in deaths, injuries, academic performance and emotional well-being, and earlier and heavier drinking sets up kids for worse health outcomes later in life.

Fueling Underage Drinking

Alcohol is the leading drug problem among young people. According to “Monitoring the Future,” the federal government’s annual survey of drug use among eighth-, 10th- and 12th-graders, more young people drink alcohol than smoke cigarettes or use illegal drugs. The U.S. Surgeon General estimates that approximately 5,000 people under age 21 die from alcohol-related injuries involving underage drinking each year.

Despite significant efforts to reduce youth access to alcohol, binge drinking among youth remains stubbornly high. In 2006, 7.2 million youth under age 21 reported binge drinking (consuming five or more drinks at a sitting, usually defined as within two hours) within the past month.

The earlier young people start drinking, the worse the consequences. People who start drinking before age 15 are four times more likely to become dependent on alcohol later in life than those who wait to drink until they are 21. Those who drink heavily in adolescence and early adulthood are more likely to develop a metabolic profile that puts them at greater risk of cardiovascular problems later in life, whether or not they continue drinking.

“Too many Americans consider underage drinking a rite of passage to adulthood,” says former Acting Surgeon General Kenneth Moritsugu. “Research shows that young people who start drinking before the age of 15 are five times more likely to have alcohol-related problems later in life. New research also indicates that alcohol may harm the developing adolescent brain. The availability of this research provides more reasons than ever before for parents and other adults to protect the health and safety of our nation’s children.”

There is compelling evidence that exposure to alcohol advertising and marketing increases the likelihood of underage drinking. Since 2001, at least seven peer-reviewed, federally funded, long-term studies have found that young people with greater exposure to alcohol marketing — including on television, in magazines, on the radio, on billboards or other outdoor signage, or via in-store beer displays, beer concessions, or ownership of beer promotional items or branded merchandise — are more likely to start drinking than their peers.

Econometric analysis based on data from youth drinking surveys has estimated that a 28 percent reduction in alcohol advertising would reduce the percentage of adolescents who drank in the last month by 4 to 16 percent. The percentage engaging in binge drinking monthly would fall by 8 to 33 percent.

Alcohol Advertising Tsunami

Between 2001 and 2007, alcohol companies spent $6.6 billion to place more than 2 million alcohol product advertisements on television. From 2001 to 2006, they spent $2 billion to place 19,466 alcohol product advertisements in national magazines.

Because the four broadcast networks — NBC, CBS, ABC and FOX — have a voluntary ban on distilled spirits advertising on television, beer companies have traditionally dominated spending on television. However, since 2001, distilled spirits marketers have driven a dramatic increase in alcohol advertising on cable television.

Advertising placements, spending and youth exposure have all grown on television since 2001, while placements and youth exposure have declined in magazines. The number of magazine advertisements placed by alcohol companies fell by 22 percent from 2001 to 2006. Spending in magazines peaked at $361 million in 2004 but fell to $331 million in 2006. Youth, young adult and adult exposure to this advertising fell by 50 percent, 33 percent and 28 percent respectively over the six-year period. Overall, the shift from magazines to television means that there has been little change in overall youth exposure to alcohol advertising across the two media since 2001.

Exposing Kids

In 2003, trade associations for beer and distilled spirits companies adopted, as part of their self-regulatory codes of good marketing practice, a 30 percent maximum for underage audiences of their advertising (the wine industry had moved to 30 percent in 2000). Under this standard, alcohol companies should not advertise on programs with an audience that is more than 30 percent underage.

In the same year that the beer and spirits industries adopted the 30 percent standard, the National Research Council and Institute of Medicine recommended that alcohol companies move toward a proportional 15 percent maximum for youth audiences of alcohol advertising, since 12- to 20-year-olds are roughly 15 percent of the general population. In 2006, 20 state attorneys general echoed that call, followed by the U.S. Surgeon General in 2007.

Even a 15 percent standard would leave large numbers of kids exposed to alcohol ads. A program with high ratings but a relatively lower proportion of youth viewers may still reach more kids than a program with a higher proportion of youth viewers but a smaller overall audience.

Since adopting the 30 percent standard in 2003, alcohol companies have made steady progress toward compliance, both in magazines and on television. In 2001, 11 percent of alcohol product advertisements in magazines were in publications with youth readership greater than 30 percent. By 2006, only 3 percent of alcohol product advertisements in magazines were in publications with youth readerships greater than 30 percent.

On television, in 2001, 11 percent of alcohol product advertisements were on television programming with youth audiences greater than 30 percent. By 2007, 6 percent of alcohol product advertisements were on television programming with youth audiences greater than 30 percent.

However, the decline in placements on television programming with youth audiences greater than 30 percent has been accompanied by increases in the percent of youth exposure coming from overexposing placements — ads on programs with 15 to 30 percent youth viewership. Youth overexposure occurs when advertising is placed on programming or in publications with youth audiences that are out of proportion to their presence in the population. Cable generated 95 percent of youth overexposure to alcohol advertising on television in 2007.

The result is that the share of youth exposure to alcohol advertising coming from advertisements on television programming that youth are more likely per capita to watch than adults has never been higher since CAMY began its monitoring in 2001. More than 40 percent of total youth exposure to alcohol ads on TV comes from programs where 12- to 20-year-olds are more than 15 percent of the audience.

The Overexposers

Not all alcohol brands advertise equally. A relative handful of brands are responsible for nearly half of all youth overexposure to alcohol ads.

In magazines in 2006, 21 alcohol brands (out of a total of 229 alcohol brands advertising in magazines) were responsible for 44 percent of youth exposure and 49 percent of youth overexposure, but only 33 percent of adult exposure to alcohol product advertising.

On television in 2006, 22 alcohol brands (out of a total of 142 alcohol brands advertising on television) provided 36 percent of youth exposure and 48 percent of youth overexposure but only 30 percent of adult exposure to alcohol product advertising.

Clearly some brands do better than others at avoiding youth overexposure. Using 2007 television data, CAMY developed a method for identifying which brands did best overall both in complying with the industry’s 30 percent threshold and in avoiding youth overexposure to alcohol advertising. Eliminating the smallest brands to avoid skewing the results, 11 brands stood out as the worst performers and seven brands emerged as best.

The worst performers were: Miller Lite, Corona Extra Beer, Coors Light, Hennessy Cognacs, Guinness Beers, Samuel Adams Beers, Bud Light, Smirnoff Vodkas, Disaronno Originale Amaretto, Miller Chill and multiple brands from Mike’s Beverages.

The best performers by the CAMY measure were: Michelob Beer, Santa Margharita Pinot Grigio, Korbel California Champagnes, Arbor Mist Wines, Rolling Rock Beer, Michelob Ultra Light Beer and Kahlua Hazelnut.

Not Too Much Responsibility

In addition to placing product advertising on television, some alcohol companies also place “responsibility” advertisements, which seek to deliver messages about underage drinking or about drinking safely (i.e., in moderation, not in combination with driving, and so on).

From 2001 to 2007, alcohol companies spent 43 times as much money to place 28 times as many product advertisements as “responsibility” messages.

Placement of this kind of advertising varies by company. Diageo, the world’s largest distilled spirits company and marketer of Smirnoff Vodkas and Captain Morgan Rums, spent nearly 19 percent of its television advertising dollars on “responsibility” messages from 2001 to 2007. In contrast, Anheuser-Busch, producer of Budweiser and Bud Light and the largest alcohol advertiser on television, spent 1 percent of its budget on these messages (and in total dollars, less than a quarter of what Diageo spent).

Youth and adult exposure to the alcohol industry’s “responsibility” messages has consistently been overwhelmed by the amount of alcohol product advertising seen by each group each year. From 2001 to 2007, youth ages 12 to 20 were 22 times more likely to see a product advertisement for alcohol than an alcohol-industry-funded “responsibility” message. Adults were 26 times more likely to see an alcohol product advertisement than an alcohol industry-funded “responsibility” message.

The Path to Reform

Over the last decade, the alcohol industry has tightened and clarified its self-regulatory standards and review procedures. However, although alcohol industry compliance with the voluntary 30 percent maximum for youth audiences of alcohol advertising has been good, this threshold has not been effective in reducing youth exposure to alcohol advertising. Youth exposure to alcohol advertising in magazines has fallen, but this has been counteracted by the huge increase in alcohol advertising on television, especially in distilled spirits advertising on cable television.

During this same period, federally funded surveys have found that binge-drinking 12th-grade girls (the only grade for which data are available) have shifted their beverage of choice from beer to liquor since 2001, and that in four states (the only places from which data are available), current drinkers in grades nine through 12 are also now more likely to drink liquor.

Nearly half of youth overexposure to alcohol advertising on television and in magazines results from placements by a small number of brands, suggesting that the majority of the industry is able to advertise its products without overexposing youth. The U.S. Surgeon General has stated that alcohol companies have a public responsibility to ensure that the placement of their advertising does not disproportionately expose youth to messages about alcohol.

In 2006, Congress passed unanimously — and President George W. Bush signed into law — legislation authorizing the Department of Health and Human Services to monitor and report annually to Congress the “rate of exposure of youth to advertising and other media messages encouraging and discouraging alcohol consumption.” To date, however, no funds have been appropriated for this activity, and no such reporting has occurred.

The prevalence and the toll of underage drinking in the United States remain high. Evidence that alcohol advertising plays a role in the problem grows stronger each year. With approximately 5,000 young lives per year in the United States at stake, there is an ongoing need not only for independent monitoring, but also for alcohol companies to adopt a more meaningful and effective standard for where they place their advertisements.

On cable television, the industry’s 30 percent standard leaves 82 percent of advertising time-slots available for alcohol advertising. The standard has not succeeded in limiting or reducing youth exposure to alcohol advertising on television. In Congressional hearings in 2003, Beer Institute President Jeff Becker referred to the standard as “proportional” because approximately 30 percent of the population is under age 21.

Of the population under 21, children under age two are not counted for television ratings by Nielsen. Of two-to-20-year-olds’ exposure to alcohol product advertising between 2001 and 2007, 68 percent fell on 12-to-20-year-olds, a group that Nielsen reports only made up 47 percent of the two-to-20 age group. Federal surveys begin measuring underage drinking at age 12, and the small amount of drinking among 12-year-olds suggests that 12-to-20-year-olds are the group at greatest risk of underage drinking. The U.S. Census Bureau estimates that this group is 13 percent of the population.

Recognizing that 30 percent is not a proportional standard when viewed in the light of the population at greatest risk, the National Research Council and Institute of Medicine, as well as 20 state attorneys general, have called on the industry to consider changing its standard to eliminate advertising on programming with more than 15 percent youth (ages 12 to 20) in its audiences. A 15 percent standard would reduce overall youth exposure to alcohol advertisements by 20 percent, according to CAMY research estimates, saving lives and even saving the industry some money in advertising costs. n

David Jernigan is executive director of the Center on Alcohol Marketing and Youth at Georgetown University, and associate professor at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health. Ratings and other data contained herein are ©2007 Nielsen Media Research, Inc. All Rights Reserved.   

New Products for New Drinkers

Alcohol distributors in recent years have released new products aimed toward young drinkers, such as alcopops and alcoholic energy drinks. “The trend has gone to developing products that are highly youth oriented,” says George Hacker, director of the Alcohol Policies Project at the Center for Science in the Public Interest. “These new products geared toward youth make it easy for young people to initiate drinking.”

Alcopops, such as Smirnoff Ice, Bacardi Silver and Skyy Blue, are branded with popular hard-liquor names and often have a higher alcohol content than beer, although the taste of alcohol is masked by sugar, fruit flavorings and carbonation. These products are marketed like beer and advertised on network televisions, despite the network policies against the advertising of their hard-liquor namesakes.

Alcopops are especially popular with young girls. About one third of teenage girls ages 12 to 18 have tried alcopops, according to the California-based Marin Institute. The Marin Institute estimates that underage drinkers consumed 47 percent of all alcopops in California in 2007. Alcopop consumption leads to approximately 60 deaths a year in California and about 50,000 “incidents of harm” — including traffic accidents, violence, suicide, alcohol poisoning and fetal alcohol syndrome, among others — according to the Marin Institute.

Alcoholic energy drinks, such as Tilt, Bud Extra and Sparks, contain high levels of alcohol along with ingredients like caffeine, taurine, ginseng and other stimulants. The mixture of caffeine and alcohol can be dangerous, as it makes drinkers feel more alert, when in fact their senses and reflexes are impaired because of the alcohol. In 2007, Anheuser-Busch pulled its alcoholic energy drink Spyke off shelves after the company received a letter signed by 29 state attorneys general, expressing their concern about the drink.

“Given the documented health and safety risks of consuming alcohol in combination with caffeine or other stimulants, Anheuser-Busch’s decision to introduce and promote these alcoholic energy drinks is extremely troubling,” the letter stated. “Young people are heavy consumers of nonalcoholic energy drinks, and the manufacturers of those products explicitly target the teenage market. Promoting alcoholic beverages through the use of ingredients, packaging features, logos and marketing messages that mimic those of nonalcoholic refreshments overtly capitalizes on the youth marketing that already exists for drinks that may be legally purchased by underage consumers.”

Advocacy groups have been working with state legislatures to pass measures making products such as alcopops and alcoholic energy drinks less accessible to underage youth. One of those measures involves reclassifying alcopops as “distilled spirits,” thus removing them from many grocery and convenience store shelves. Other measures include raising taxes on such items to make them more expensive and therefore less appealing to youth.      

— Jennifer Wedekind


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