The Department of Media and Communication of the University of Leicester have found links between teenage drinking and advertising. The direct link has not been fully established, but there is very strong evidence that the volume of ads and the volume of alcohol consumption among teens are related.
About one out of two teenagers now drink alcohol (at least occasionally) when they reach their mid-teens, and a growing number consume it until they are inebriated. A wide range of influences set off this pattern. Earlier studies identify two major factors: (a) whether the parents drink, and (b) peer pressure. Earlier research also indicates that when alcohol use in the home and in the peer group conflict (such that parents don’t drink but friends do), young people tend to be influenced by the group that is “most important” to them. To many teenagers, friends are more important, so they are encouraged to drink when their friends do, even when their parents disapprove.
The findings of the University of Leicester team have found a third influence: advertising. Alcohol ads make teens familiar with the many brands of alcohol available in the market. There is mixed evidence about whether the ads actually induce teens to start drinking, but there is clear indication that teens are influenced by how print media in particular associates alcoholic drinks with fun, relaxation, humor, ‘coolness,’ and friendships. Endorsement of celebrities, association with popular music, or use of sexual themes in these ads appeared to have some effect, though more limited.
Advertisements becoming ‘more responsible’
The research team studied the print and television ads endorsing alcohol, and most of them appear to comply with the advertising codes of practice. The team found around 40 violations, though, most of which were printed/broadcasted from 2003- to 2004. Violations included linking alcohol brands to activities that may become dangerous if carried out by people under the influence of alcohol (e.g. Diving, swimming, use of dangerous machinery, etc.). Newer ads seemed to be more compliant.
Although legal for those 21 and older, alcohol is the most widely abused addictive substance in the United States. In fact, 1 in every 12