Youth Exposure to Alcohol Ads on Television, 2002: From 2001 to 2002, Alcohol's Adland Grew Vaster

  • April 21, 2004

Television advertising for alcohol, and youth exposure to that advertising, grew substantially in 2002 from 2001, indicating the alcohol industry may need to significantly change its advertising practices in order to comply with the revised voluntary advertising codes announced in September 2003. The total number of alcohol ads increased from 2001 levels by 39%, to 289,381, and spending grew by 22%, to more than $990 million. The largest percentage increases came in ads and spending for distilled spirits and "low-alcohol refresher" (LAR) or flavored malt beverage products such as Bacardi Silver and Smirnoff Ice.

Youth were more likely than adults on a per capita basis to see 66,218 of the alcohol ads in 2002, an increase of 30% over 2001. In this universe of ads overexposing young people, total youth exposure was 80% higher than that of adults, up from 73% in 2001. In 2002, these 66,218 ads also reached youth viewers more effectively than the alcohol companies' often-stated target of 21-34, with youth 12-20 receiving 22% more exposure than young adults 21-34. Teen programming abounded with alcohol advertising: all 15 of the television shows most popular with teens aged 12-17 had alcohol ads.

Alcohol industry self-regulation is the primary means of regulating alcohol advertising's exposure to youth. In September 2003, the Beer Institute and the Distilled Spirits Council of the United States (DISCUS) announced changes in their voluntary codes, lowering the maximum permissible youth audience composition for alcohol advertising from 50% to 30%. Had this threshold been in place in 2002, 34,016 ads—11.8% of ads, costing nearly $47 million—would have exceeded it, suggesting ongoing independent monitoring will be critical to ensure compliance. The National Research Council and Institute of Medicine (IOM) recently recommended that the industry eventually move toward a threshold of 15% maximum youth audience composition. More than 21% of ads—61,741 ads, costing more than $103 million—exceeded this threshold in 2002.

These 61,741 ads accounted for more than 40% of youth exposure to alcohol advertising on television in 2002.