The Effect Of Alcohol Advertising On Children

Essay, Research Paper

In this essay I analyze the effects of alcohol presence in the media. For years, the population has been exposed to different forms of media. Newspapers, magazines, television, films, radio, and more recently the Internet are ways of promoting ideas, spreading news, and advertising products. Alcoholism has always been a detriment to our society, especially in the hands of our youth. Many factors cause children to participate in the consumption of alcohol – alcoholic parents, peer pressure, and the media are major determining factors. The most influential factor, however, is the media, which is generally unregulated and uncensored. Whether intentional or not, there has always been an existence of alcohol in all forms of the media. I examine how alcohol-brewing companies intentionally target youth in their advertising campaigns. I also analyze other forms of media such as film and the Internet to find examples of the use and display of alcohol, and how it affects, and is targeted towards youth.

There have been a number of campaigns to combat the undiscriminating advertising of alcohol to young people during the course of the last two decades. Recently, President Clinton and the Food and Drug Administration of the United States have rightfully attacked alcohol company abuses in advertising, with the support of the Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI), and the American Medical Association. (Hacker, George A. (May 16, 1996). Press Conference on Alcohol Advertising Reforms.) According to Commissioner Kessler of the Food and Drug Administration, addiction to nicotine is a “pediatric disease.” If that’s true for smoking, which kills users much later in life, then youthful alcohol consumption can only be labeled a “pediatric disaster.” His studies also show that the earlier children begin to drink the more likely they are to become heavy drinkers, use illicit drugs and suffer problems related to their alcohol and drug use.

At a press conference on alcohol advertising reforms, George A. Hacker, Director of the Alcohol Policies Project reported results of a survey conducted in the United States to determine evidence on the use of alcohol by youths. Some of his findings are as follows:

+ The median age at which children begin drinking alcohol is just over 13 years. 67 percent of students in the 8th grade have tried an alcoholic beverage.

+ Alcohol is the leading cause of death for young people, ages 15 to 24. They die in alcohol-related car crashes, drownings, fires, homicides, and suicides.

+ Fifty-two percent of 12th-graders report having been drunk within the year. Among 8th- and 10th-graders, the reported drunkenness during the year was 18 percent and 39 percent, respectively.

These findings can only beg the question — Does the presence of alcohol in media influence young people to drink? And do alcohol companies target youth in their advertising? Whether the media of communication is advertising, television, the Internet or movies, many studies have been conducted to determine an answer to this controversial issue. It is in my belief, after studying the topic, the presence of alcoholic beverages in different forms of mass media can heavily influence young teens and adolescents to drink. It can also be said that in many cases, alcohol producers try to influence children in many of their advertisements.

A look at some of the practices of the world’s largest brewer, Anheuser-Busch (Budweiser), shows that the company is involved in attracting underage consumers to its brands. Budweiser beer uses an assortment of cute animals to promote its products, including frogs, ants, penguins, dogs, chimpanzees and horses — many of them animated, and clearly attractive to young children. A growing body of evidence shows that these ads attract, entertain, and teach young people about beer. The three Budweiser beer frogs, which croak “Bud-weis-er” in different patterns to form the word Budweiser, provide an example of beer advertising that appeals to young children.

In criticism of the Budweiser frogs, James McNeal, author of Customers, and a Professor of Marketing at Texas A&M University writes that “children often value frogs; adults often don’t.” After all, children do grow up with a strong interest in frogs, proven in stories such as A Frog Prince and Frog and Toad. A study done by the San Francisco-based Center on Alcohol Advertising that tested 9-11 year old children proved that 73% of them recalled the frogs’ slogan from television advertisements. Another Anheuser-Busch product, Bud Light also seems to appeal to younger consumers. A new series of their advertisements involve “The Jerky Boys,” two adolescent pranksters who spend their time making prank phone calls. According to Sound Data Incorporated, 26% of music consumers who say they like, or strongly like “The Jerky Boys” are under the age of 21.

Recently, the American Medical Association conducted a study in which their objective was to identify the characteristics associated with tobacco and alcohol use portrayed in G-rated animated films. All of the films released between 1937 and 1997 that were available on videotape were reviewed. The results were surprising to say the least. Of 50 films reviewed, 25 displayed at least one event of alcohol use. Alcohol was portrayed by 63 characters, for a total duration of 27 minutes. Their conclusion was that more than two thirds of animated children’s films feature tobacco or alcohol use in the story plot without any clear messages of negative effects associated with use of the substances (The Journals of the American Medical Association, Vol. 281 No. 12, March 24/31, 1999). The films that were studied by the AMA are seen by millions of children and adults, some, the most popular movies ever made. Many of the films are labeled masterpieces and are readily available to children in the theatres and on videocassette/DVD. While the content of the films is not necessarily used to influence children to drink alcohol, as opposed to Anheuser-Busch’s advertising methods, it teaches children the wrong ideas about drinking, and causes them to make the wrong decisions. A child sees hundreds of animated films while growing up. When the characters in Pocahontas, or Mulan, for example, are portrayed as consuming large amounts of alcohol, it can give the child an early impression that alcohol is condoned in society. Because films are of so much significance to children, the messages put forth in films can often contradict the messages that have been reinforced by their parents.

According to the Centre for Media Education, the Internet now acts as a “sanctuary” for content that is restricted in other media. The institute clearly mentioned the mass of alcohol and tobacco advertisements geared to adolescents. In their report titled “Alcohol and Tobacco on the Web: New Threats to Youth,” the organization writes that 62% of alcohol web sites use “youth-oriented” features. This new type of advertising puts power into the hands of the marketers to reach and influence youth. Recent studies have indicated that children and adolescents constitute a highly significant portion of Internet users, giving alcohol companies an opportunity to advertise on another media, having even more exposure to youth. These campaigns are being launched at a time where drinking among youth is already at an alarmingly high level. Underage drinking is already a major health concern in the U.S. and Canada, and is the leading cause of death in youth ages 15-24. The Center for Media Education (CME) states blatantly that advertising and marketing play a major role in influencing the drinking behavior of youth.

These new Web marketing technologies gives marketers of alcohol an arsenal of powerful new weapons. Urgent action is needed to ensure that effective safeguards are put in place to protect young people from the harmful effects of online marketing of alcohol and tobacco. Because of the unique nature of the interactive media, many of these new forms of advertising, of particular appeal to youth, appear to be deceptive. Some of these practices may already be violating the law.

The idea that children are influenced by alcohol in the media, and brewers’ youth targeted advertising campaigns can be examined in both objectivist and interpretivist theories. Both have overlapping ideas, however, the majority of my arguments have seemed to stem from the objectivist, realist theories. Many of the anti-advertising campaigns and encouragers of censorship in the media have obtained all their fact from behavior, cause and effect, experiments and surveys — all of which fit into the theory of objectivism. On the other hand, the alcohol companies and film producers, etc., who believe that the presence of alcohol in the media cannot possibly influence a child to drink would formulate their arguments as interpretivists. Because surveys and facts have argued against their theory that children are not influenced by alcohol in the media, they would reinforce to the public, what their meanings, values, and intentions really are. They would argue that a child cannot possibly be influenced by anything he/she sees – it is the child that ultimately decides what is right or wrong. Their arguments would be that multiple truths exist – some youth are more vulnerable to the media than others, for example. They would also examine what people really do in their lives. For example, do thirteen-year-old children watch a beer commercial and run out and buy a case of beer right away? Despite what arguments can be formulated by either side, I believe, in this case, the objectivist theories cannot lie. As Hacker proved, alcohol is the leading cause of death for young people, ages 15 to 24. The world cannot close their eyes to the fact children are dying because of the excessive use of alcohol. The problem must be nipped in the bud if we are to end the 52% drinking rate in grade 12 classes across North America (Hacker). If the media does not influence the youth of our society to drink alcohol, then the question is — what does? We know that peer pressure and parental influence can be partial factors, but as the evidence clearly supports, children are most affected by alcohol in the media, and will continue to be unless regulation and censorship is put forth by our governments.