June 24th, 2008

Study Says Youth Are Swimming in Alcohol Ads

By Jeremy Mullman
Advertising Age

Cable TV Blamed for Increased Exposure; Liquor-Industry Group Says Underage Drinking Is Down

Youth exposure to alcohol advertising climbed sharply between 2001 and 2007, according to a study released today by Georgetown University’s Center for Alcohol Marketing & Youth.

According to the study, the average 12- to 20-year-old TV viewer saw an average of 301 ads for alcoholic beverages during 2007, up from 217 during 2001 and from 285 during 2006.

That increase occurred despite the adoption of standards by alcohol-industry trade groups that instructed members not to advertise where 30% or more of the audience was under 21 years of age, the study found.

Putting the blame on cable
The primary culprit for the increase in youth exposure, according to CAMY director David Jernigan, was cable advertising, particularly on niche channels such as Comedy Central, E!, Oxygen, FX and VH1. “The problem isn’t sports,” Mr. Jernigan said, referring to the traditional hub for beer advertising. “The problem is rising alcohol advertising is a tide that lifts all boats.”

Mr. Jernigan said that many of the cable programs utilized by alcohol advertisers draw a disproportionate share of sub-21 viewers. Cable, the study found, was responsible for nearly two-thirds of the increased alcohol ad placements seen by youth and 95% of the total number of youth overexposed to alcohol advertising on TV. The Cabletelevision Advertising Bureau could not be reached for comment at press time.

The medium has seen a dramatic increase in spending from spirits marketers during the study period, as barriers to placing liquor ads on cable have been greatly relaxed over the last decade. Spirits ads were responsible for 41% of cable youth overexposed to alcohol marketing, the study found, compared to 53% for brewers, who have continued to aggressively deploy both cable and broadcast advertising.

Naming names
For the first time, CAMY released a list of what it deemed the worst offenders, a ranking based both on the percentage of ads placed and also on adhering to the 30% framework established by the industry.

According to CAMY, the alcohol brands most seen by youth, in order, were: Miller Lite (Miller Brewing), Corona Extra (Crown Imports), Coors Light (Coors Brewing), Hennessy cognac (Moet-Hennessy), Guinness (Diageo), Samuel Adams (Boston Beer), Bud Light (Anheuser-Busch), Smirnoff vodka (Diageo), Disaronno amaretto (Bacardi), Miller Chill (Miller) and Mike’s Hard Lemonade.

The group also singled out seven brands that are best at keeping ads away from youth: Michelob (A-B), Santa Margherita, Korbel, Arbor Mist, Rolling Rock (A-B), Michelob Ultra (A-B) and Kahlua (Pernod Ricard).

In a statement responding to the report, the Distilled Spirits Council of the United States took issue with CAMY’s methodology, which it said undercounted adults. “The Distilled Spirits Council has always disagreed with CAMY’s methodology, and the FTC has pointed out its flaws in its 2003 Report to Congress. Most important, the inflammatory language of the CAMY press release obscures the fact that while advertising on cable TV was up in 2001-2007, underage drinking is down significantly by all major measures during the same period.”

A spokesman for Miller Brewing, which markets two of the offending brands on CAMY’s list, said: “CAMY continues to distort the facts about advertising. We have long maintained one of the industry’s best self-regulated advertising review processes, and we remain committed to ensuring that we are in full compliance with the 70% placement standard and responsibly marketing our products to legal-drinking-age consumers.”

CAMY calls it quits
Citing the statistics, CAMY has called for the industry to tighten its own cap for underage viewers to 15% from 30%, but the group won’t be around to see out that call.

The center is dissolving itself in response to a federal law that created a government entity charged with tracking youth exposure to alcohol advertising. “We’re hoping the government picks up the slack from here,” said Mr. Jernigan, who added that he will remain involved in issues surrounding youth exposure to alcohol and food marketing.

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