Adolescent Responses to Televised Beer Advertisements:
Children of Alcoholics and Others


Acknowledgements * Summary * Introduction * Background * Survey Methodology * Findings * Discussion * Conclusion * Recommendations * Footnotes




By the time they reach the age of 21, American youth see thousands of advertisements for alcoholic beverages -- mostly for beer -- on television.  These ads often glamorize drinking and position beer as an important consumer product.  With the exception of public service ads denouncing drinking and driving, few, if any, beer advertisements provide information about the potential negative consequences of its use.


In 1994, brewers spent $588.8 million advertising their products on television, much of it on the sponsorship of televised sporting events and other programming routinely watched by adolescents.  Television advertising amounted to 83% of all beer advertising expenditures in the mass media and 59% of all spending for alcoholic-beverage ads.  Beer ads often feature youth-oriented themes, characters, and activities, including athletic competition and recreation, beach and street parties, socializing, and humor.  Recently, many beer ads have featured animated animals that have clear appeal to young people.


Whether these ads affect youth consumption of alcohol or influence the attitudes young people develop about beer has been hotly debated by researchers, health activists, and representatives of the alcoholic-beverage industry.  In all likelihood, it may not be possible to demonstrate a causal relationship between alcohol advertising and consumption; not because the relationship doesn't exist, but because current research methodology is unable to measure that connection.


Previous studies of the effects of alcohol advertising on young people have attempted to determine the impact advertisements have on alcohol consumption patterns and attitudes toward drinkers and alcohol.  Surprisingly, there has been no research on the effects of exposure to alcohol advertising on children of alcoholics, a population at particularly high risk of alcohol dependence.


This pilot study set out to compare the responses of adolescent children of alcoholics and other adolescents to televised beer commercials.  Since children of alcoholics have been exposed to extensive parental alcohol abuse and dependence, our purpose was to explore their potential vulnerability to the advertisements and assess the need for and direction of additional research in this area.  Is parental alcoholism related to the way young people process images in beer advertising?  Are children of alcoholics immune to messages of beer advertisements because of their own personal experiences?  Are they especially vulnerable?


This research produced several interesting findings regarding both children of alcoholics and young people in general.  Compared to the other respondents, the children of alcoholics were more likely to:

  • perceive heavy drinking in the ads;

  • report feeling confused, embarrassed, sad, and angry after watching the ads; and

  • anticipate more frequently both positive and negative consequences of drinking.

In addition, the findings indicate that young people in general:

  • perceive that beer advertising models heavy drinking as a normative consumption pattern;

  • believe that they are the targets of the commercial appeals;

  • have widely different assessments of beer drinkers in real life and in the ads (they associated highly positive traits with characters in beer ads); and

  • prefer fantasy-oriented themes to realistic depictions.

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Center for Science in the Public Interest

1220 L St., NW, #300

Washington, DC 20005

(202) 332-9110 ext. 385

Children of Alcoholics Foundation, Inc.

164 West 74th Street

New York, NY 10023

(212) 595-2553 ext. 7760


July 1996



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