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


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


Survey Methodology


To measure adolescents' perceptions of drinking and television beer advertising, we designed a short questionnaire and assembled a video of five television beer commercials.  The survey was administered to 452 adolescents, including 212 sixth graders (11-12 years old) and 240 ninth graders (13 years and older) from 16 locations representing diverse income levels and racial backgrounds.  Of the total sample, 46% were male and 54% female.


Survey sites included: 11 schools in Westchester County, NY; public schools in Somerville, MA and Syracuse, NY; an alcohol education program in Campbell, CA; a parochial school in the Bronx, NY; and a program for children of alcoholics in Long Beach, NY.


The survey, which consisted of three sections, first asked respondents to indicate their agreement with a series of statements about the appropriateness and the effects of alcohol consumption.  Adolescents responded to such statements as "Getting drunk can be fun," "Alcohol makes drinkers feel relaxed," "My friends think that getting drunk is fun," and People under 21 should be allowed to drink beer."  They were then asked to describe drinkers they know by circling words from among a list of favorable and unfavorable characteristics, such as "loud," "angry," "happy," "popular," and "fun."  These questions sought to indicate adolescents' general attitudes towards alcohol and drinkers in real life.


In the second section, respondents viewed a television beer commercial, and were asked to complete a series of questions pertaining to that advertisement.  Those questions asked how viewers perceived the characters in the ads (their age, personal characteristics, realism, status as role models), how much they thought the characters had been drinking, and what emotions the commercials triggered.


With some variation in the questions asked, this procedure was repeated for each of the five commercials.  The ads were selected for their variety in content and style, and were all approximately two years old so that viewers could examine messages that were not overly familiar.

  • Commercial #1: Budweiser Rookie Construction Worker - This 60-second ad features a young apprentice being selected for a construction job assignment, putting in a hard day's work with more experienced workers, and then going to a bar for a drink afterwards.  One of the older workers signals acceptance of the rookie by inviting him for a beer.

  • Commercial #2: Miller Genuine Draft Fantasy Island - This ad depicts a crowded beach on a hot day.  A man singles out an attractive female sunbather and creates a deserted island for the two of them by pouring water from his boot in a circle around her.  He pulls out a beer and the two of them embrace, alone on the island.

  • Commercial #3: Bud Light Beach Play - This ad features beach scenes, with attractive young men and women enjoying Bud Light beer as they ride bikes, swim, and talk with friends.

  • Commercial #4: St. Ides Rapper - In this malt-liquor commercial, popular rapper Ice Cube stands on an inner-city street holding a 40-ounce bottle of St. Ides.  Using MTV- style videography, additional urban youth appear in the background as Ice Cube raps about drinking St. Ides.

  • Commercial #5: Miller Lite TV Drinking Party - The fantasy-based ad depicts a couple unable to watch television because every channel shows Miller Lite.  The television repairman tells them they need to drain the beer from the set, and suggests they invite friends over.  The result is a party with the television set functioning as a beer keg.

In section three, participants completed a series of demographic questions that inquired about problem drinking by family members and their own anticipated use of alcohol.


Teens were classified as children of alcoholics if they reported that their parents and/or other adult family members drink a lot, and:

  • they wish they wouldn't drink so much, and/or

  • they think this person has a drinking problem.

Using this commonly accepted definition, 139 of the 452 respondents were classified as children of alcoholics.  For the purposes of additional analyses, the sample population was also classified by age: 212 respondents were classified as young (11-12 years old) and 240 were considered older (13 years and older).


In a final open-ended section, respondents were given the opportunity to express any additional thoughts about alcohol and beer advertisements.  Many of these responses provided further insights into youth perceptions of beer advertising.


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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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