Crafty alcohol advertising directed at US adolescents through music and branding

April 8, 2014

Alcohol consumption among adolescents is high. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 39 percent of U.S. adolescents are current drinkers, and roughly 22 percent are current binge drinkers. The average U.S. adolescent is also exposed to about 2.5 hours of popular music per day, and eight mentions of alcohol brands every day. A new study of linkages between adolescents' involvement with music containing alcohol-brand mentions and their alcohol-related behaviors has found strong and independent associations between the two.

Results will be published in the June 2014 online-only issue of Alcoholism: Clinical & Experimental Research and are currently available at Early View.

"Average exposure is about eight alcohol brand name mentions per day," explained Brian A. Primack, associate professor of medicine and pediatrics at the University of Pittsburgh and corresponding author for the study. "This is based on average exposure of 2.5 hours of music per day, with 3-4 brand mentions each hour. However, this is just an average. For some kids, it will be more, and for others it will be less."

"Alcohol are quite prevalent in ," added Lisa Henriksen, senior research scientist at the Stanford Prevention Research Center. "For example, hip-hop/rap lyrics favor luxury brands, such as Cristal and Hennessy, and brand references in rap music have increased four-fold over time, from eight percent in 1979 to 44 percent in 1997. It would be foolish to think that the alcohol industry is unaware of and uninvolved with alcohol-brand mentions in music. The strategy of associating products with hip culture and celebrities who are attractive to youth comes straight from a playbook written by the tobacco industry."

"We believe that this is the first study of its kind for three primary reasons," said Primack. "First, it is large and nationally representative; second, it measured alcohol brand exposure in some relatively rigorous and innovative ways; and third, it was able to control for a number of important covariates."

For this study, Primack was part of a team of researchers led by James D. Sargent, a professor of pediatrics at the Geisel School of Medicine at Dartmouth. During 2010-2011, the team conducted a random-digit-dial survey using national U.S. landline and cell phone numbers. Through screening interviews, 6,466 eligible households with subjects between 15 to 23 years of age were identified, of whom 3,422 (52%) completed the telephone survey. Of these, 2,541 (1,296 males, 1,245 females) agreed to participate in a subsequent web-based component. Independent variables included owning and liking popular songs with alcohol-brand mentions, and correct recall of alcohol brands in songs. Outcome measures included ever having consumed a complete drink, ever bingeing, bingeing at least monthly, and having experienced problems from alcohol use.

"Based upon this data, which included a large, nationally representative sample of U.S. adolescents and young adults, we found independent associations between being receptive to and knowledgeable about alcohol brand mentions in music and important alcohol outcomes," said Primack.

"Even drinking and binge drinking were more common among young people who liked or owned popular songs with alcohol brand names," added Henriksen.

"We created a scale that placed youth into three categories – low, medium, or high – based on how much they liked and owned music containing alcohol brand mentions," explained Primack. "Compared with people who were 'low' on this scale, people who were 'high' had more than three times the odds of ever having a complete drink of alcohol, which is an important outcome in this age group. Also compared with people who were 'low' on this scale, people who were 'high' had about twice the odds of ever bingeing on alcohol. This outcome is especially problematic, because binges are particularly clinically relevant—it is on a binge that youth often get injuries or other serious problems.

"The association of receptivity to names in music with is worrisome," added Henriksen. "It will be important to learn whether receptivity predicts high-risk drinking among youth who were not drinkers to start."

Both Primack and Henriksen commented on the tendency for people to believe they are immune from advertising.

"Youth tend to think that they are not influenced by media messages," said Primack. "Interestingly, they will tend to say that other people their age are influenced, but they themselves are not. So, much of this influence may be subconscious."

"People often underestimate the impact of advertising on health behaviors, such as drinking, smoking, and eating energy-dense foods," concured Henriksen. "The idea that people mistakenly assume that others' behaviors are more influenced by advertising than their own behaviors is known as the third-person effect."

"In terms of policy," said Primack, "it is worth considering whether or not payment to music stars by alcohol companies is in violation of current guidelines. For example, the Distilled Industries Council of the U.S., or DISCUS, states that 'Alcohol advertising and marketing materials should portray alcohol products and drinkers in a responsible manner.' This text is vague and challenging to interpret. However, if you watch a few music videos by stars who are spokespeople for alcohol companies, you would likely come away questioning whether these messages portray 'alcohol products and drinkers in a responsible manner.' Thus, it may not be a question of enacting new legislation, but rather one of simply enforcing current legislation."

Primack also spoke of the potential value of "media literacy," defined as the ability of a person to analyze and evaluate media messages, as part of education efforts. "Some traditional heavy-handed educational programs can actually backfire, especially for sensation seeking youth who are more likely to abuse in the first place," he said. "Media literacy, on the other hand, helps youth to analyze and evaluate what they see in the media and then make their own choices. It may be a more developmentally appropriate and effective approach, because it encourages critical thinking and supports youth autonomy."

Explore further: Four alcohol brands dominate popular music mentions

Related Stories

Four alcohol brands dominate popular music mentions

August 28, 2013
Patron tequila, Hennessy cognac, Grey Goose vodka, and Jack Daniel's whiskey—accounted for more than half of alcohol brand mentions in the songs that mentioned alcohol use in Billboard's most popular song lists in 2009, ...

Underage youth and adults differ in their alcohol brand preferences

March 21, 2014
(Medical Xpress)—Youth are not merely mimicking the alcohol brand choices of adults, suggesting that other factors may influence their drinking preferences. This is the conclusion of a new report comparing the alcohol brand ...

Effective regulation of alcohol brand placements in movies could limit underage drinking

May 27, 2013
Researchers at the Norris Cotton Cancer Center have found that current constraints on advertising for alcohol products in movies that adolescents watch are not effective. The study, "Trends in Tobacco and Alcohol Brand Placements ...

Study of US popular music links luxury alcohol brands with degrading sex

October 20, 2011
In a study published online today in the international journal Addiction, researchers at the University of Pittsburgh reported that the average US adolescent is heavily exposed to alcohol brand references in popular music.

Alcohol leaving the UK charts with a hangover

September 30, 2013
Are we allowing alcohol marketing to children and teens via the music they love? As many as one in five songs in the UK top ten today include references to alcohol—a figure rising partly due to US-imported songs. What impact ...

Alcohol brands influence teen drinking preferences

July 6, 2011
American adolescents are hitting the hard stuff, according to a new report from Dartmouth Medical School and the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health published in the July issue of the journal Archives of Pediatrics ...

Recommended for you

Incorporating 12-step program elements improves youth substance-use disorder treatment

July 26, 2017
A treatment program for adolescents with substance-use disorder that incorporates the practices and philosophy of 12-step programs like Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) produced even better results than the current state-of-the ...

Concern with potential rise in super-potent cannabis concentrates

July 21, 2017
University of Queensland researchers are concerned the recent legalisation of medicinal cannabis in Australia may give rise to super-potent cannabis concentrates with associated harmful effects.

Findings link aldosterone with alcohol use disorder

July 18, 2017
A new study led by scientists at the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA), part of the National Institutes of Health, demonstrates that aldosterone, a hormone produced in the adrenal glands, may contribute ...

Depression among young teens linked to cannabis use at 18

July 17, 2017
A study looking at the cumulative effects of depression in youth, found that young people with chronic or severe forms of depression were at elevated risk for developing a problem with cannabis in later adolescence.

Why does prenatal alcohol exposure increase the likelihood of addiction?

July 7, 2017
One of the many negative consequences when fetuses are exposed to alcohol in the womb is an increased risk for drug addiction later in life. Neuroscientists in the University at Buffalo Research Institute on Addictions are ...

Researchers say U.S. policies on drugs and addiction could use a dose of neuroscience

June 23, 2017
Tens of thousands of Americans die from drug overdoses every year – around 50,000 in 2015 – and the number has been steadily climbing for at least the last decade and a half, according to the National Institute on Drug ...


Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.