Josh and Steve were watching an exciting basketball game on TV when the scene switched to show a group of young, good looking men laughing and having a good time in a crowded bar.
“Give me that remote. I’ll find some real action,” said Steve. He entered the numbers. Both teens groaned as another beer commercial filled the screen. Excited people lined a race track. Most held or waved cans of beer. Josh and Steve began cheering, too, as a jaunty pig wearing a red beret roared across the finish line in his hot red stock car, way ahead of the other pigs.
“Some of those beer ads are pretty clever,” Josh said, flipping back to the basketball game.
Pouring on the Ads
Alcohol producers hope that is what you’ll say when you see their ads. They want you to remember–and drink–their brand of beer or wine coolers. Today, some of TV’s most creative advertising promotes these products.
The alcohol industry spends $2 billion a year advertising and promoting their products. Nearly 15 percent of that money is poured into wine cooler advertising. Another one-third goes for beer commercials on TV. Most alcohol ads run during televised sporting events that are widely viewed by both teens and adults–football, baseball, basketball, auto racing. Some alcohol promoters hire famous athletes for their ads.
Although alcohol ads feature adults and are purportedly geared to adult viewers, teens see them, too. By age 18, the average American teen will have seen 100,000 TV beer commercials. Yet in all 50 states and the District of Columbia, the legal drinking age is 21.
Many experts charge that these ads:
* encourage underage drinking
* establish loyalty to a brand early, so that a teen will continue to drink a particular brand for life
* have contributed to the current rise in teen alcoholism.
Although medical complications from alcoholism can take decades to develop in adults, teens can develop an addition within months. That is because teens are usually smaller than adults and are still developing physically, mentally, and emotionally. Also, some teens participate in binge drinking (consuming five or more drinks in a short period of time), which is dangerous and can be fatal.
The alcohol producers deny that they are selling alcohol to teens through their ads. A spokesperson for a beer maker explained that they make and sell a product that millions of Americans enjoy. The alcohol producers say their beer and wine cooler ads do not encourage teen drinking or create teen alcoholics. Their ads only encourage drinkers to switch brands or continue to drink their present brand.
Teens Are Targets
Others disagree. Dr. Jean Kilbourne, former adviser to the U.S. Surgeon General, believes that Americans are drinking at earlier and earlier ages because of alcohol advertising aimed at teens. The alcohol ads encourage people to buy and use their product, no matter what their age. They promote use among non-drinkers and very light drinkers. “Selling alcohol to teens is starting a pattern [of drinking] early,” Dr. Kilbourne says.
“Although the alcohol industry declares that it’s not targeting teen drinkers with its advertising, the alcohol companies have a very good knack for putting ads on during times when teens are watching TV shows,” says Dwayne James, Deputy Director of Automotive Transportation at Purdue University. James and other researchers conducted a 1992 study for the National Safety Council on teen alcohol use.
Even if the televised sport show is for teens, alcohol ads still run. For example, Indiana’s Sweet 16, the high school teams’ basketball playoffs, is televised each year to thousands of excited teens and adults. One of the major advertisers is a large alcohol producer, and it runs plenty of ads during the event.
What is the message of all these alcohol ads? “They show how much fun it is to drink and how popular it makes you. The ads say ‘Fit in. Have fun. Drink.’ If you do, you’ll immediately get a group of buddies and friends. You’ll be liked by that special guy or girl,” says James.
These messages are false. Most advertising creates myths; it does not give viewers information. Ads never tell you that one wine cooler and one can of beer contain the same amount of alcohol. Instead, the ads make wine coolers seem the same as soft drinks.
Ads try to create an image. They link a product–alcohol–with something people want. When a muscular athlete drinks a particular beer with his buddies, some viewers will link sports, being fit, popular, and successful with alcohol. Some people may be tempted to buy this brand of beer over another because they want to be like this sports hero.
Also, these ads give some people the idea that alcohol use is part of everyday life. Since the ads are so common, many people accept their message. Many Americans believe that heavy-duty partying with alcohol is something all sports figures do. Or that a party, eating in a restaurant, or watching sports is incomplete without drinking alcohol.
What Ads Don’t Tell You
Ads seldom portray the real world. Alcohol ads never show the dark side of drinking. You’ll never see an ad of an unattractive person drinking beer or wine coolers. Ads don’t show people who drink too much and are suffering hangovers, with puffy faces and bad headaches.
The ads don’t show the problems of teen drinking, like slipping grades, troubles with family and friends, loss of interest in fun activities, trouble with the police, and auto accidents. Before leaving high school, one-third of all students has had a serious problem in school, at home, or with the law because of alcohol use. According to the American Council for Drug Education, alcohol-related problems account for 500,000 college dropouts a year. Each year, underage drinkers consume about 1.1 billion cans of beer and more than one-third of all wine coolers sold.
Today, some breweries sponsor ads featuring well-known athletes urging adults to “know when to say ‘when'” and show a responsible attitude toward drinking. Some American alcohol manufacturers have started their own alcohol-awareness programs, including information on underage drinking. But this is not enough.
Be aware that you’re being targeted by the alcohol industry. You don’t have to do what other people do, no matter what fantasy images the ads try to create.
Lots of Logos
TV ads aren’t the only place beer brand logos show up.
Alcohol advertising appears in magazines, on radio, billboards, posters, and buses. Breweries sponsor live athletic events, and their ads appear at the stadiums, arenas, and on the athlete’s stock car, helmet, or jacket.
Alcohol producers sponsor many events aimed at teens: sports, contests, tasting parties, and rock bands. They give away T-shirts, mugs, hats, posters, toys, stuffed animals, and other things that appeal to teens.
Critics charge that these advertising and promotional gimmicks continue to reinforce the message to drink. And that drinking message is for everyone, adult and teens alike.