The Center on Alcohol Marketing and Youth at Georgetown University released Dec. 17 a report saying that America’s youth has been overexposed to alcohol advertising.

“Because of the placement of commercials, almost a quarter of alcohol advertising on television in 2001 was more likely to be seen by youth than adults,” the executive summary of the study says. The Center defines youth as those between the ages of 12 and 20.

Jim O’Hara, executive director of the center, said he hopes this report will encourage the Federal Trade Commission to rethink current restrictions on alcohol advertising.

“In 1999 a report by the FTC said there needed to be a reduction in the advertising of alcohol to youth; that hasn’t taken place,” he said. “We hope that the study really prompts a public policy debate on how we as a nation treat this issue.”

The study measured youth exposure to alcohol ad campaigns by monitoring the $811.2 million spent on alcohol product advertising during 2001 on both network and cable television. Nielsen Media Research and Competitive Media Reporting provided both audience and expenditure data for the study.

“Youth were routinely exposed to alcohol advertising on five networks – WB, UPN, Comedy Central, BET and VH1. Two programming categories – music video and entertainment programs and variety shows – more effectively delivered alcohol advertising to the youth audience than to the adult audience,” the study concludes. “Youth saw 48 percent more advertising than adults on music video and entertainment programs.”

Additionally, the report says that youths were exposed to more beer commercials than ads that traditionally target youth for products such as “juice, gum, chips, sneakers or jeans.”

Former Food and Drug Administrator David A. Kessler said he finds the study’s results disheartening. “This study shows that no one is protecting our youth. As a result, teenagers are seeing unbalanced and unrealistic messages about alcohol,” he said in a Dec. 17 university press release.

According to O’Hara, trade associations set current alcohol advertising policy. The Beer Institute for Beer and Ale, the Wine Institute and the Distilled Spirits Institute all set voluntary guidelines for the industry to follow.

According to the press release, however, “the voluntary guidelines call for member companies not to advertise on programs with a 50 percent or more youth audience.”

Both Kessler and O’Hara said they find these restrictions to be ineffective.

“The FTC should take another look and see if self-regulation is working and put teeth behind its recommendations,” O’Hara said.

“The industry’s own guidelines are so permissive that, in practice, they amount to no limits at all. It is like a promise not to drive faster than 125 miles per hour – that doesn’t slow you down much,” Kessler said.

John Buethe (COL ’06) said he believes that the study’s results are accurate.

“[Beer companies] absolutely advertise toward adolescents. One has to think about who the Budweiser frog campaign was for,” he said. “The WB has alcohol ads during “Dawson’s Creek” and “Smallville,” and that’s a 13- to 18-year-old audience. It could be because it’s prime time, but I think it’s questionable.”

John Givens (SFS ’03) pointed out recent ads that he believes specifically target youth.

“The new Michelob Ultra ad is definitely aimed at youth, but not just youth – it’s aimed at the healthy, young athletic youth.”

The commercial shows young people exercising and advertises fewer carbohydrates than other beers. Other students cited different alcohol campaigns, such as the Budweiser penguin, the new iller Light “great taste, less filling” commercial with two voluptuous women mud wrestling and a Bud Light commercial where a man runs upstairs to his wife, dives on the bed for a beer, and slides off of the silk sheets out of the window.

Other students, however, disagree.

“There are beer ads during shows like `Friends,’ but a wide range of people watch those shows. People who want to drink are going to drink anyway, it’s what the person wants to do, not what they watch,” Stanli Montgomery (COL ’03) said.

Annie Hull (MSB ’06) thinks most ad campaigns target a different kind of audience.

“The more TV I watch, the more ads I see geared toward being a sexy woman in a slinky dress or beer ads during football games about having the time of your life with your guy friends,” she said. “I don’t think that they advertise toward youth specifically.”

Few students, however, seem to find great fault with the advertisements.

“Most of the ads have disclaimers, and for as many ads as there are, there are a lot of anti-smoking and anti-drug ads. But, if you look at the profit margins of alcohol manufactures, a significant portion are underage consumers. They know they’re advertising for adolescents, and I don’t blame them,” Buethe said.

The results of the study were submitted to the FTC in December, and the Center said it is hoping for change. In 1999 Congress prompted the FTC to review advertising practices. As a result, it recommended that advertises follow a “best practice” policy, and not advertise on any show with a youth audience of 25 to 30 percent.

Georgetown’s Center on Alcohol Marketing and Youth is funded by grants from The Pew Charitable Trusts and the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation.

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