Alcohol advertisements super effective on underage drinkers

Never underestimate the power of advertising, especially when seen by unintended audiences. Researchers at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health (JHSPH) report this week in the Journal of Studies on Alcohol and Drugs that the brands of alcohol most often advertised in magazines read by youth happen to be the same brands most often consumed illegally by youth.

“We’ve got at least 14 long-term studies that have looked at young people’s exposure to alcohol advertising and found that the more exposed they are the more likely that they are to start drinking or if already drinking, to drink more,” senior author David Jernigan told Reuters Health. “So we try to monitor youth exposure to that advertising because it’s a risk factor for underage drinking.” Jernigan is director of the JHSPH Center on Alcohol Marketing and Youth.

The alcohol industry voluntarily conforms to standards that include only placing advertisements for their products in magazines with less than 30 percent of readers under the age of 21. Youth between the ages 18 and 20 account for the highest rates of both heavy episodic, or “binge” drinking, and drinking disorders. Evidence suggests that this age group sees more alcohol brand advertisements than intended.

Jernigan and colleagues studied the advertisements in 124 national magazines during 2011 and matched their results to readership data used to identify which age groups read the magazines and the advertisements within. They found that 25 brands already known to be popular with underage drinkers were also the brands most visible in advertisements in the magazines. The researchers observed that the other, less-popular alcohol brands among youth were not as visible in advertisements.

“It’s striking that we looked at the top 25 brands among males and the top 25 among females and 308 other brands managed to reach the legal aged audience more effectively than the underage audience,” Jernigan said. “We sometimes call this advertising that flies under the parental radar.”