The relationship between exposure to brand-specific alcohol advertising and brand-specific consumption among underage drinkers – United States, 2011–2012
Marketing is increasingly recognized as a potentially important contributor to youth alcohol use, yet few studies have examined the relationship between advertising exposure and alcohol consumption among underage youth at the brand level.
To examine the relationship between brand-specific exposure to alcohol advertising among underage youth and the consumption prevalence of each brand in a national sample of underage alcohol users.
The researchers analyzed the relationship between population-level exposure of underage youth ages 12–20 to brand-specific alcohol advertising in national magazines and television programs and the 30-day consumption prevalence – by brand – among a national sample of underage alcohol users ages 13–20. Underage youth exposure to alcohol advertising by brand for each month in 2011, measured in gross rating points (GRPs, a standard measure of advertising exposure), was obtained from GfK MRI (a media consumer research company) and Nielsen for all measured national issues of magazines and all national television programs, respectively. The 30-day consumption prevalence for each brand was obtained from a national survey of 1031 underage alcohol users conducted between December 2011 and May 2012.
Underage youth were more than five times more likely to consume brands that advertise on national television and 36% more likely to consume brands that advertise in national magazines.
The consumption prevalence of a brand increased by 36% for each 1.5 standard deviation (50 GRPs) increase in television adstock among underage youth and by 23% for each 1.5 standard deviation (10 GRPs) increase in magazine adstock.
These findings suggest that alcohol advertising influences an important aspect of alcohol use behavior – brand choice – among youth who consume alcohol.
This is the first study to examine the relationship between brand-specific advertising and brand-specific consumption of alcohol among underage alcohol users using all 898 brands for which youth consumption data are available. The researchers found a robust relationship between documented underage youth exposure to alcohol brand advertising and the prevalence of past 30-day consumption of those brands among a national sample of underage alcohol users.
The chief limitation of this study is that, even though the researchers’ analyses controlled for both brand price and overall market shares, the possibility remains that an unknown confounder could explain the observed relationship. It may also be that the researchers did not adequately control for overall brand market shares: they had to rely on data on the volume of alcohol sold into distribution by manufacturers since data on the volume sold at the retail level are not readily available.
A second potential limitation is potential endogeneity bias. It is possible that the intensity of brand advertising could be a function of already established levels of youth brand consumption, rather than consumption being driven by youth exposure to brand-specific advertising. The cross-sectional nature of this study precludes our ability to draw causal inferences.
Third, this study only assessed television and magazine advertising exposure. Several studies have documented the potential for heavy exposure of underage youth to alcohol advertising through social media and the internet. Unfortunately, there is currently no source that tracks youth exposure to brand-specific alcohol advertising through social media or the internet.
Fourth, the researchers note that any effect of alcohol advertising on youth alcohol use would depend not only on overall advertising exposure, but also on how the specific messages are perceived and interpreted. They did not measure youth reactions to alcohol advertisements in this study.
The researchers excluded industry “responsibility” ads from our analysis. Future research is necessary to assess the impact of these ads on youth alcohol consumption.
To address these potential limitations, confirmation of these findings is needed from future studies, especially those using a longitudinal design.
Despite these limitations, however, the researchers have shown that underage youth advertising exposure is strongly related to alcohol consumption at the brand level, which adds additional evidence to the literature suggesting that alcohol advertising influences youth alcohol consumption behavior.
This study focused on the relationship between advertising exposure and brand consumption among current youth alcohol users and did not address the relationship between advertising exposure and alcohol use initiation. Even so, the finding of a robust relationship between the brands to whose advertising underage youth are most exposed and the brands most popular among underage alcohol users increases the plausibility of a relationship between alcohol advertising exposure and youth alcohol use initiation.
The next question to be answered is whether alcohol advertising merely affects youth brand choices or whether it influences alcohol use initiation itself. A clear priority is a longitudinal study that examines this question.