Alcohol Product Commercials Overwhelm “Responsibility” Messages From 2001 to 2003

Alcohol Product Commercials Overwhelm “Responsibility” Messages From 2001 to 2003

From 2001 to 2003, product advertisements for alcoholic beverages overwhelmed the alcohol “responsibility” messages aired by alcohol companies on television. Young people were far more likely to see ads promoting drinking than messages from the alcohol industry warning about alcohol consumption and its consequences.

  • Alcohol companies placed 761,347 product ads on television from 2001 to 2003, compared to 24,161 “responsibility” ads.
  • Spending on alcohol product advertising on television totaled more than $2.5 billion over the three-year period; spending on “responsibility” ads was less than $92 million.
  • Only four alcohol companies placed “responsibility” ads on television in all three years analyzed for this report; in contrast, 31 companies put alcohol product ads on television in all three years.
  • Over the three years, young people ages 12 to 20 were 96 times more likely to see a product ad for alcohol than an alcohol industry ad about underage drinking. They were 43 times more likely to see a product ad than an alcohol company ad about drunk driving.
  • While the number of product ads for distilled spirits exploded—from 645 to 29,396—on cable networks during this period, “responsibility” ads bought by distillers on cable grew from 188 (29% of spirits product ads on cable) in 2001 to 5,634 (19% of spirits product ads on cable) in 2003.

Clearly, televised alcohol industry messages about responsibility do not come close to countering the weight of young people's exposure to product commercials for alcohol. These findings underscore the need for an independently funded national media campaign to reduce and prevent underage drinking, the central recommendation of the National Research Council and Institute of Medicine's report on underage drinking released in September 2003.

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