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Drink Up: Cable Alcohol Ads Reaching Teens

Wayne Friedman
August 25, 2009

Are alcohol TV commercials creating a problem for teens? Maybe not all of TV is to blame. Cable TV, in particular, could be a bigger culprit.

Cable TV alcohol advertising is reaching a disproportionate number of teens, according to a study by researchers from the Center on Alcohol Marketing and Youth at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health and UCLA.

In addition to beer advertising on cable television, many cable networks also take on spirits advertising and so-called "alcopop" brands, such as Mike's Hard Lemonade and Smirnoff Ice. Broadcast networks and stations still voluntarily prohibit straight-ahead liquor advertising.

Of chief concern for many alcohol advertisers is avoiding TV programs where more than 30% of their audience is comprised of underage viewers, according to the study.

David Jernigan, Ph.D., co-author of the study and an associate professor with the Bloomberg School's Department of Health, Behavior and Society, said in a release: "Our research found that each one percentage point increase in adolescent viewership was associated with 7% more beer, 15% more spirits and 22% more alcopop or low-alcohol refresher ads."

In contrast, wine ads decreased 8% with each one percentage point increase in adolescent viewership. The study suggests those alcohol advertisers were more successful in avoiding adolescent audiences.

Even those alcohol commercials that stayed within the 30% guideline were problematic. The study found that "audiences with a higher percentage of youth ages 12 to 20 were exposed to a higher frequency of alcohol ads, even after accounting for other factors that might explain ad placement decisions."

Data for the study was obtained from Nielsen Media Research, as well as from UCLA, Rand, North Shore University Health System, Harvard and Virtual Media Resources. It examined more than 600,000 national alcohol commercials on cable television from 2001 to 2006.







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