Despite Industry Compliance, Alcohol Ads Still Find Youths
> 8/6/2007 12:29:01 PM

Evidence compiled by the Center on Alcohol Marketing and Youth (CAMY) shows that alcohol trade associations have stayed true to voluntary 2003 restrictions that were meant to limit advertising to minors. As they state in their executive summary, the CAMY team found that while alcohol advertising in magazines fell overall between 2001 and 2005 youth exposure to advertising fell by a greater amount than that of adults. The voluntary ban on ads placed in magazines where youths accounted for more than 30% of the readership was honored for the most part. Only 1% of total alcohol magazine advertising dollars went to publications with large youth readerships.

CAMY's mostly-rosy assessment of alcohol advertising between 2001 and 2005 was tempered a great deal by the editors of The Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report (MMWR), which is published by the CDC. In their discussion of this new report the editors at MMWR pointed out three main flaws: 1) CAMY's data only incoporated national publications and thus didn't include local, regional and Internet based magazines, 2) the organization that prepared the data, Mediamark, did not measure circulations on magazines that accounted for 10% of ad dollars, thus nothing is known about their readerships, and 3) Mediamark's surveys are limited by all the things that normally limit surveys, and little was done to understand who complied the research or why.

Outside these limiting factors, there are a couple of other issues at play. As MMWR points out, while magazine adverising is down, television advertising of alcoholic products is up. The networks continue to limit alcoholic ads, but those dollars have continued to flow into the ever increasing cable market. Another aspect that is not taken into account by the CAMY research is web advertising. Whether it's pop-up ads at newspapers like USAToday or even Slate, or banner and interactive ads at more targeted webpages, alcohol ads are everywhere. Youth eyeballs may have migrated away from magazines, a fact that seems to be reflected in the overall shrinkage of that market, but those same eyeballs aren't just disappearing, instead they're showing up in other places and advertisers are moving to account for those changes.

Certainly, at the end of the day, the reduction of alcohol advertising in magazines is a positive step. But as the MMWR again notes, it may be time to move toward the 15% youth readership number that has been proposed by the National Research Council/Institute of Medicine. What would be more valuable though, if interested parties really want to reduce the influence that alcohol ads are having on children and adolescents, is to find out where the ad dollars are flowing and identify new strategies for decreasing the amount of time youths spend viewing these ads. Alcohol companies have shown time and again that while they may go to great efforts to promote responsible drinking, they are also in the business of creating future alcohol consumers. Thus, assuming that voluntary restrictions, even when they are followed, are going to solve the problem is a little naive. CAMY has shown us that progress can be made, but it's time to start refocusing and reassessing to decide the next course of action in the battle against underage drinking and alcohol abuse.

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