This post was originally published on November 20, 2015.
Advertising executives everywhere can rejoice, their hard work is paying off—just not with the right consumer. The Daily Mail recently reported on a study from Boston University that indicates underage peeps are five times more likely to purchase alcohol after seeing an advertisement for it on TV. This conclusion is based on data from Nielsen that revealed the brands for which underage kids watched commercials between 2011 and 2012 compared against research regarding the drinking patterns of those between the ages of 12 and 20. Published in the American Journal of Alcohol and Drug Abuse, the findings also claim that young people are 36% more likely to buy booze after seeing it in magazine advertisements.
Sex Sells (Budweiser)
I totally believe this. I’m done with alcohol, but I’ll be damned if watching fictitious people in a fictitious world drinking on television, doesn’t make me crave a little. Don’t get me started on when they leave those wine glasses full on the table. I’d imagine a Bud Light commercial with hot people playing beach volleyball would send any drinker running to the liquor store. Couple the power of visual marketing with the forbidden factor alcohol has for kids and you’ve got a perfect recipe for underage drinking.
They already banned cigarettes from being advertised on television—will alcohol be next? The push to ban smoking ads came from evidence that the younger someone starts smoking, the more likely they are to die from cancer-related causes. But, are people more likely to develop alcoholism or alcohol-related health issues the younger they start drinking? The National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism says yes. Their research shows people who start drinking before the age of 15 are “four times more likely to meet the criteria for alcohol dependence at some point in their lives.” Of course, those who buy into the theory that addiction is in the genes believe someone could start at 12 or 50 and still suffer the consequences if they’re predisposed to alcoholism.
According to Alcohol Concern, a UK charity dedicated to alcohol awareness and education, teens are more apt to recognize the brand for an alcoholic beverage than ice cream. Because of this, they’re recommending banning the booze ads at entertainment and sporting events. How will that work? Aren’t there entire stadiums named after alcohol brands? Seems like a tall order for our beloved sports culture. Considering the rates of diabetes and obesity, is ice cream brand awareness really that much safer? Fine, I guess Jack Daniels is maybe a worse influence on kids than Ben and Jerry.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention labels underage drinking as a serious health issue. Underage drinkers account 11 percent of the alcohol consumers in the United States and 90% of that is binge drinking. Not surprising, since not many teenagers are sipping Merlot because it enhances the taste of a pre-prom steak dinner. It’s part of the allure of the forbidden—they’re not supposed to have booze, it so of course they’re gonna chug it when they finally get some.
Why We Shouldn’t Start Them Young
Some say lowering the legal drinking age could de-stigmatize alcohol and make it a little less of a thrill for youth. Thus bringing us to the whole “Europeans let their five-year-olds sip wine with meals” argument. Start them young and start them under the supervision of sophisticated parents drinking wine for the health benefits? Then they won’t see it as an appealing forbidden fruit, right? I used to buy into this concept. That and the forever popular, “If they’re 18 and can fight in a war, why can’t they have a beer?”
Well, for one thing, the brain isn’t full developed until the late 20s and alcohol can negatively impact that development in those who start hitting the bottle hard during adolescence. Throw in the potential for poor academic performance, prematurely engaging in risky sexual behavior and not having the good sense to avoid getting behind the wheel under the influence (okay, let’s get real, most adults don’t have that sense either). It’s really not a great idea to have that Jose Cuervo billboard up near the playground.
Most kids are eventually gonna try drinking so I don’t see the harm in trying to protect their innocence, and their livers, for as long as possible.