Underage alcohol abuse is apparently on the decline with specific thanks to major brewers and beer importers! During the month of April, the Beer Institute is recognizing Alcohol Awareness Month and the significant progress being made in reducing drunk driving and underage alcohol abuse with their support. This seems peculiar considering that according to the Center on Alcohol Marketing and Youth, the alcohol industry spent $23.2 million to air 2,379 responsibility messages (discouraging underage drinking and drunk driving), but contrasted these with $811.2 million on 208,909 product advertisements. With regard to underage drinking in particular, they report that there were 179 product ads for every ad that referred to the legal drinking age.
The flaw in encouraging people to drink responsibly and youth to abstain is that alcohol consumption is generally not associated with the notion of responsibility at all. In fact, alcohol has long been connected to problems of irresponsibility and the loss of control. For instance, one of the most recent studies reported by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention revealed that about one third of all vehicle crash fatalities involve alcohol impaired driving.
Alcohol advertising has been shown to be especially effective among youth, beer companies are aware of this. Being exposed to more advertisements increases the likelihood that alcohol consumption will occur and also increase the amount of alcohol that youth consumes, even underage youth. Although many people like to believe that they are not affected by advertisements. Research shows otherwise. The hidden messages in beer commercials undermine the obvious messages encouraging responsible drinking. One has to wonder at the strangeness of it all – from a sales and profit perspective, responsibility in drinking behaviors would seem to decrease sales so the question is – what is the message that is really being communicated from the alcohol industry?
Because alcohol campaigns have been shown to be so effective and seductive, it’s important to take a look at the contradictions contained therein. Advertising affects both attitudes and buying habits. Beer commercials that produce positive emotional responses are more likeable, causing the viewer to be more receptive to the advertisement. The style of the advertising can be extremely influential. Being aware of a particular brand causes the viewer to purchase that brand.
How can a beer company encourage responsibility and simultaneously sponsor hundreds if not thousands of sporting events where youth are present and/or participate in (i.e. The US Open of Surfing – sponsored by Pacifico beer – owned by Anheuser-Busch)? It’s equal to dangling a toy in front of a child and expecting the child to say no. It is a fact that the brain of a teenager is more immature than that a young adult in their twenties. Their reasoning skills are still underdeveloped and they are much more impulsive than someone who is 5 to 10 years older. Effective campaigns for prevention of early drinking are geared to keep youth from experimenting with alcohol for as long as possible, a daunting task in the face of showcasing and glamorizing its allure at sporting events.
The National Center for Biotechnology Info – branch of the US Department of Medicine – published the following: “Many public health experts in the alcohol prevention field are highly skeptical about the value of the industry’s collective motivation for sponsoring them. The criticism most frequently heard is that the main effect of these programs may be to produce brand identification, if not alcohol use itself,” which makes their campaigns vague, ineffective and likely harmful. Young people deal with issues best in a black and white context….”This is how it is while you live at home and you are underage. There are no choices in this matter. When you are older, and of legal age, you may make your own decisions regarding this, however for now, this is how it is. Period.”