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Review: Alcohol Portrayals & Alcohol Advertising On TV

Grube, J.W. (1993, Winter). Alcohol Portrayals & Alcohol Advertising on TV: Content & Effects on Children & Adolescents. Alcohol Health and Research World, pp. 61-66.

Summary

(Download Alcohol Portrayals overview as a PDF)

What if a parent raises a child without ever drinking alcohol or exposing the child to parties or friends drinking alcohol, and even surrounds the child with peers who share the same negative view of alcohol? Can television and advertising still influence that child to have positive attitudes toward drinking? According to this study by Dr. Joel Grube, the answer is a resounding yes.

It has long been established that alcohol has been portrayed unrealistically, whether on TV, in a movie (called “alcohol portrayals”), or in advertising. The questions relating to young people are these:

  • Does research indicate that television advertising has a direct effect on the drinking habits of adolescents?
  • Do alcohol portrayals and television advertising have an effect on the beliefs of kids, and the attitudes they form about alcohol and drinking?

According to a 1991 Lipman study, 73 percent of the general public believes that alcohol advertising is a major contributor to underage drinking. Grube cites much of the research that has been done in the field over the last decade, and reports on a 1991 survey of his own, in presenting specific evidence for the public belief.

Children were asked a range of questions regarding

  • Their beliefs about the positive and negative aspects of drinking.
  • Their intentions to drink as an adult.
  • Their knowledge of beer brands and slogans.
  • Their television viewing habits.

Awareness of alcohol advertising was ascertained by presenting the children with a series of still photographs taken from television beer commercials. In each case, all references to a product or brand were blacked out. To further validate the survey, information about other background variables that might influence the children was obtained from families.

What is feared by parents and others concerned about young people, overlooked by profit-seeking advertising companies, and exploited by alcohol producers is confirmed in the research:

Studies of alcohol advertising and young people indicate that alcohol advertising may predispose youths toward drinking.

Our most important findings are that children who were more aware of alcohol advertising had increased knowledge of beer brands and slogans, and held more positive beliefs about drinking than children who were less aware of the advertising.

The survey also found an “increase in the intention of these children to drink as adults.”

Most importantly, the survey found the results to be consistent over and above parental and peer attitudes and behaviors.

Content analyses of alcohol advertisements show that the ads link drinking with highly valued personal attributes such as sociability, elegance, and physical attractiveness, and with desirable outcomes such as success, relaxation, romance, and adventure. This is supported by other studies such as Atkin and Bloack (1981, 1984); Finn and Strickland (1982); and Postman et al.

By age 16, kids routinely list alcohol commercials among their favorite ads, and they find ads illustrated with fun lifestyles, celebrity endorsers, humor, animation, and rock music to be particularly appealing (Atkin and Block [1983], Covell et al. [1991], Wallack et al. [1990b]).

The Wallack survey found that nearly 60 percent of fifth and sixth grade schoolchildren could identify the beer associated with a still photograph of “Spuds McKenzie,” and more than 80 percent correctly matched the slogan “Spuds…the original party animal” with Budweiser.

Grube and Madden’s 1991 study found that 33 percent of TV beer advertisements paired drinking with potentially hazardous situations, such as swimming, boating, or lounging poolside. Although this study did not include duplicates, it is possible that almost half of all beer advertising may pair drinking with potentially dangerous situations.

Grube’s 1991 study also showed that moderation message ads (“know when to say when”) appeared in less than one percent of television alcohol advertising.

Atkin and his colleagues conducted well-known field studies in 1983 and 1984, sampling groups of kids that had been more heavily exposed and kids who had been less heavily exposed to alcohol advertising. These studies suggested that advertising shapes not only students’ behavior, but their belief systems as well:

Heavily exposed adolescents held more favorable beliefs about drinking and were more likely to believe that it was acceptable for teenagers to become intoxicated…adolescents more heavily exposed to alcohol advertising were more likely to drink, drink heavily, and drink in hazardous situations such as in conjunction with driving.

Further, an Atkin 1988 study found that “young people who drink are more likely to be exposed to alcohol advertisements, are more accurate in identifying brands of beer from edited alcohol advertisements, and are more favorably disposed toward these advertisements than are nondrinkers.” Grube suggests that methods used in conducting these studies might underestimate the actual effects.

Another major finding in this report is the high degree of alcohol advertising found in major sporting events, which are watched heavily by young people. During 1990-91 major professional sporting events, there were an average of 5.68 alcohol advertisements per hour, which includes television commercials, slogans, stadium signs, brief sponsorships (e.g., “this halftime report brought to by”), and on-site promotions (e.g., product symbols, names on race cars).

Grube offers six strategies for preventing the impact of alcohol advertising among young people, but makes an effective counterargument for the probably ineffectiveness of each (e.g., regarding limited sponsorships, “such actions…are certain to meet considerable resistance from alcohol advertisers…and may be counterproductive.”).

The research on this sample is not complete; more research is expected:

It was not possible to examine behavioral effects with the data from the initial panel of this survey because, at such young ages, only 5 percent of the children had ever had a whole drink. This issue will be addressed as the sample ages.

Questions for Reflections and Discussion

  1. How does this research compare with your personal experience with adolescents?
  2. How does this article challenge your own perceptions and attitudes about drinking?
  3. What has probably happened to these research numbers and facts since these tests and survey were conducted?
  4. Who are this season’s spokepersons for alcoholic products? What are this season’s symbols and slogans?

Implications

  1. Instruction regarding the “behavior” of drinking alcohol is relatively useless if students have already formed basic beliefs and attitudes about drinking.
  2. Attention must be given-by those who care for young people and are capable and empowered to make an effective difference-to reducing the number of televised alcohol advertisements, and changing the “face” of television portrayals of alcohol.
  3. Children and youth must be shown other ways that they can attain the “happiness” and “success” portrayed by alcohol advertisements. Care must be given to not attack the good times, moments of relaxation, and celebrations depicted by alcohol advertising. These moments are not dangerous, but their attachment to alcohol is.
  4. Any reeducation efforts must target a wider range of personal, social, and environmental factors.

Douglas Howe
© 2017 CYS

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