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


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




Objective - This pilot study was designed to determine the responses of adolescent children of alcoholics and other adolescents to television beer commercials.


Background - Brewers spend hundreds of millions of dollars advertising their products on television.  Beer ads often feature youth-oriented themes, and many now use animated animals that appeal to young people.  No previous research has attempted to detect the effects of beer advertising on children of alcoholics, a population at particularly high risk of alcohol dependence.


Design - Respondents were shown five television beer commercials and then asked a series of questions about the advertisements, their prior exposure to parental alcohol abuse and dependence, and their beliefs about drinking.


Participants - This study surveyed 452 adolescents from 14 schools and 2 programs specifically for children of alcoholics.  The sample included 212 sixth graders and 240 ninth graders.  Forty-six percent were male; 54% were female.


Results - Although the study did not find conclusively that children of alcoholics were significantly more susceptible to beer advertisements, the research indicates that this special population merits additional scrutiny, given children of alcoholics' heightened vulnerability to and inherited predisposition for alcoholism.  In addition, the study produced a number of troubling findings concerning young people in general.  Among the findings:

  • Children of alcoholics were more likely than other respondents to report more negative feelings triggered by the ads about drinkers they know personally.

  • Most respondents believed that the ads modeled heavy beer consumption.  In addition to children of alcoholics, younger respondents were also more likely than older viewers to perceive heavy drinking in some of the ads.

  • Participants' descriptions of beer drinkers they know differed markedly from their descriptions of the beer drinkers portrayed in the advertisements.  Respondents were much more likely to associate negative characteristics with drinkers in real life and positive characteristics with drinkers in the ads.

  • Although the adolescents generally recognized that actors in the ads were older than the legal drinking age, they nonetheless believed that beer companies target their advertising towards teenagers; younger adolescents were more likely to estimate that characters in the advertisements were under 21.

  • Adolescents demonstrated a stronger liking for fantasy-oriented ads than for more realistic stories.

  • Adolescents demonstrated high negative expectations of how beer drinking might affect their future lives; younger respondents were more likely to recognize potential negative consequences of drinking.

Conclusion - With only five television beer commercials as test instruments, this pilot study is limited in its capacity to determine the effects of televised beer advertising on adolescents and children of alcoholics.  Nonetheless, this study and previous research demonstrate sufficiently that teenagers pay attention to and are influenced by televised beer advertising.  Further study is warranted into the effects of advertising, particularly on children of alcoholics.


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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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