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Complete Report

Executive Summary

News Release
Alcohol Companies' Product Advertising on Television Dwarfs "Responsibility" Ads From 2001 to 2005
Youth 239 times more likely to see ads promoting alcohol products than industry spots discouraging underage drinking; B-Roll With Ads Available

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Drowned Out: Alcohol Industry "Responsibility" Advertising on Television, 2001-2005

Executive Summary

There is growing concern among policymakers and the general public about the impact of messages from popular and commercial cultures on youth perceptions, attitudes and health behaviors. The U.S. Congress recently asked the Department of Health and Human Services to monitor and report on rates of youth exposure to advertising and other media messages that encourage and discourage alcohol use.1

Alcohol companies place television advertisements in both of these categories. Alcohol product advertising on television and per capita youth exposure to that advertising experienced historic increases between 2001 and 2005.

However, youth2 exposure3 to alcohol industry-sponsored "responsibility"4 advertisements remained at consistently low levels compared to their exposure to alcohol product commercials. For instance, from 2001 to 2005 youth were 239 times more likely to see a product advertisement for alcohol than an alcohol industry "responsibility" message about underage drinking and 32 times more likely to see an alcohol product advertisement than an industry-sponsored "responsibility" advertisement about drinking and driving or drinking safely. These findings come from an analysis by the Center on Alcohol Marketing and Youth (CAMY) of 1,415,716 alcohol product advertisements and 41,333 alcohol industry-supported "responsibility" advertisements aired on U.S. television between 2001 and 2005, as reported in data licensed from Nielsen Media Research.

Other major findings from CAMY's analysis include:

  • Alcohol companies spent $4.9 billion on television advertising between 2001 and 2005. They spent 2.1% of this amount ($104 million) on "responsibility" advertisements.
  • Of the 109 alcohol companies advertising alcohol on television from 2001 to 2005, 8 companies aired "responsibility" advertising.
  • Of the 56 alcohol companies advertising alcohol on television in 2005, the most recent year for which data were available, 6 alcohol companies placed "responsibility" advertisements.
  • Of the 300 alcohol brands that placed product advertising on television from 2001 to 2005, at a total cost of $4.7 billion, 25 brands placed "responsibility" advertising, at a total cost of $104 million.
  • More brands aired "responsibility" advertising in 2005 than in any prior year. Of the 174 alcohol brands that placed product advertising on television in 2005, at a total cost of $1 billion, 19 brands sponsored "responsibility" advertisements on television, at a total cost of $28 million.

Why the Concern?

Alcohol is the leading drug problem among America's youth.5 In 2005, there were nearly 11 million underage drinkers, and almost 7.2 million underage binge drinkers in the United States.6 The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) report that 45% of high school students reported drinking alcohol in the past month, while 29% reported binge drinking--typically defined as consuming five or more drinks on an occasion.7

Young binge drinkers were far more likely than other youth to engage in other risky behaviors, such as riding with a driver who had been drinking, being currently sexually active, smoking cigarettes or cigars, being a victim of dating violence, attempting suicide, and using illicit drugs.8 Each year, approximately 5,000 people under age 21 die from alcohol-related injuries involving underage drinking.9 The highest prevalence of alcohol dependence (addiction to alcohol) in the U.S. population is among youth ages 18 to 20, who usually began drinking years earlier.10

According to the U.S. Surgeon General, delaying onset of drinking among young people as long as possible has the dual benefit of preventing tragedies due to underage drinking, while also reducing young people's risks of alcohol problems later in life.11

A growing body of research studies has shown that the more young people are exposed to alcohol advertising, the more likely they are to drink or to increase their alcohol consumption.12 Previous CAMY studies have shown that youth who saw alcohol advertising on television in 2005 were exposed to an average of 309 such advertisements. Each year from 2001 to 2005, between 20% and 25% of all alcohol product advertising placements were on programming that youth were more likely to be watching on a per capita basis than adults.13


  1. Sober Truth on Preventing Underage Drinking Act (STOP Act), Public Law 109-422, 109th Cong., 2d sess., 20 December 2006.
  2. In this report, unless otherwise noted, youth are defined as persons ages 12 to 20, and adults are defined as persons age 21 and over.
  3. In this report, calculations of youth and adult exposure to alcohol advertising are based on "gross rating points," which measure how much an audience segment is exposed to advertising per capita. Another way of measuring advertising exposure is "gross impressions" (the total number of times all members of a given audience are exposed to advertising). The adult population will almost always receive far more gross impressions than youth because there are far more adults in the population than youth. Gross rating points are calculated by dividing gross impressions by the relevant population (e.g., persons age 21 and over) and multiplying by 100. See Appendix A for a glossary of terms.
  4. For the purposes of this report, "responsibility" advertisements had as their primary focus a message about drinking responsibly, avoiding drinking and driving, or discouraging underage drinking.
  5. National Research Council and Institute of Medicine, Reducing Underage Drinking: A Collective Responsibility, R.J. Bonnie and M.E. O'Connell, eds. (Washington, D.C.: National Academies Press, 2004), 1.
  6. Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, Results from the 2005 National Survey on Drug Use and Health: National Findings (Rockville, Md.: Office of Applied Studies, 2006). (accessed 28 November 2006). "Binge drinking" is defined as having five or more drinks on the same occasion (i.e., at the same time or within a couple of hours of each other) on at least 1 day in the past 30 days.
  7. J.W. Miller, T.S. Naimi, R.D. Brewer, S.E. Jones, "Binge Drinking and Associated Health Risk Behaviors Among High School Students," Pediatrics 119, no. 1 (2007): 76-85.
  8. Ibid.
  9. U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Office of the Surgeon General, The Surgeon General's Call to Action To Prevent and Reduce Underage Drinking (Washington, D.C., 2007), 10.
  10. Ibid., 2.
  11. Ibid., 12.
  12. See e.g., L. Snyder, F. Milici, M. Slater, H. Sun, Y. Strizhakova, "Effects of Alcohol Advertising Exposure on Drinking Among Youth," Archives of Pediatrics and Adolescent Medicine 160 (2006): 18-24; R. Collins, P. Ellickson, D. McCaffrey, K. Hambersoomians, "Early Adolescent Exposure to Alcohol Advertising and its Relationship to Underage Drinking," Journal of Adolescent Health 40, no. 6 (2007): 527-34; A.W. Stacy, J.B. Zogg, J.B. Unger, C.W. Dent, "Exposure to Televised Alcohol Ads and Subsequent Adolescent Alcohol Use," American Journal of Health Behavior 28, no. 6 (2004): 498-509.
  13. Center on Alcohol Marketing and Youth, Still Growing After All These Years: Youth Exposure to Alcohol Advertising on Television, 2001-2005 (Washington, D.C.: Center on Alcohol Marketing and Youth, 2006), 2.

Copyright 2010, The Center on Alcohol Marketing and Youth