"Television remains the best place to make huge things happen...
if you hit it right, the whole country will talk about that ad."

- Cliff Freeman, Chairman,
Cliff Freeman & Partners (the agency has handled accounts for tequila and other alcohol products)
as quoted in the Wall Street Journal,12/17/01


Alcohol Advertising Influences Attitudes, Beliefs, and Behaviors

  • Children and teens already view far too many commercial messages in the broadcast media that glamorize and encourage drinking. Young people view approximately 20,000 commercials each year, of which nearly 2,000 are for beer and wine.1 For every "just say no" or know when to say when" public service announcement, teens will view 25 to 50 beer and wine commercials.2

  • In 2000, brewers spent more than $770 million on television ads and $15 million on radio ads.3  Since dropping its own TV ad ban in 1996, liquor-industry expenditures on broadcast commercials (primarily on cable TV) have skyrocketed from $3.5 million to more than $25 million in 2000.4 An expanded onslaught of alcohol ads on network TV would only increase the pressure on young people to drink.

  • Children’s awareness of alcohol directly translates into stronger intentions to drink as an adult. As early as 1994, studies found that alcohol advertising may predispose young people to drink.5

  • The booze industry commonly contends that ads have nothing to do with consumption or harm. In a September, 1999 report to Congress on promoting alcohol to underage consumers, the FTC found that measuring the effects of alcohol advertising on overall consumption faces significant methodological challenges.6 However, the FTC found that the inconclusive nature of the studies "does not rule out the existence of a clinically important effect of advertising on youth drinking decisions."

  • Even as the Supreme Court overturned Massachusetts’ ban on billboard advertising for tobacco products7, it upheld its long-standing acknowledgment that product advertising stimulates demand for products and suppressing advertising may have the opposite effect. Are we to believe that billboard advertising for cigars and smokeless tobacco lure kids, yet sexy, funny, romantic, or goofy television ads for beer don’t? Only the tobacco and alcoholic-beverage industries dare suggest that advertising has such modest intentions or effects.

  • Liquor Ads will Reach Mass Audiences of Young Viewers

  • Young people ages 12-17 spend significantly more time watching television during "prime time" hours than any other time of the day.  On average each week young people watch 5:59 hours of prime time television (Monday-Saturday from 8:00-11:00 P.M. and Sunday from 7:00-11:00 P.M.)8

    • American children ages 2 to18 spend on average 2:46 each day and 19:19 hours each week watching TV.9

  • 32% of children ages 2 to 7 and 65% of children ages 8 to18 have a TV in the bedroom.10

  • 49% of children live in homes where there are no set rules about TV watching.11

  • Underage Drinking and its Harms are Widespread

  • On average, young people begin drinking at 13.1 years of age. According to the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, those who begin by age 15 are four times as likely to become alcohol dependent than those who wait until age 21.12

  • Alcohol is a factor in the four leading causes of death among persons ages 10 to 24: motor-vehicle crashes, unintentional injuries, homicide, and suicide.13

  • Drunk driving crash deaths are beginning to rise among teens.14

  • Underage drinking costs Americans nearly $53 billion annually.15

  • NBC’s "Responsibility" Guidelines are a Sham

  • Under NBC’s "responsibility" guidelines, millions of underage persons will be exposed to commercials for hard liquor, as they have been exposed for decades to appealing, funny, and seductive spots for beer. Advertising trade professionals have declared that the "85% adult" standard is virtually meaningless, since nearly every NBC show would qualify (72% of the U.S. population is 21 or over).16 Even the industry-sponsored and branded "responsibility" messages required by the NBC guidelines represent just another thinly veiled form of product promotion.

  • In order to be credible and effective, responsible advertising guidelines for alcoholic beverages should at minimum:

  • (1) Require meaningful time, place, and manner restrictions on all television alcoholic-beverage advertising so that such ads reach as few underage persons as possible. That should include setting a cap on the absolute number and percent of potential underage viewers exposed to alcohol advertising, and possibly imposing limits on the number of alcohol ads or the time allotted for alcohol advertising within each broadcast hour. That restriction could vary, depending on time of broadcast and composition of the television audience;

    (2) Require equal time for public health and safety messages for young people and adults about the diverse risks of alcohol consumption. Those messages should be produced by government or independent agencies or public health experts not affiliated with alcoholic-beverage industry interests, and;

    (3) Require that all alcohol commercials carry visible, audible, health warning messages about the risks of alcohol consumption. Those messages should vary, rotate in ads, and address numerous documented risks of alcohol consumption.

  • The liquor industry routinely targets "entry-level" consumers in such youth-oriented magazines as Rolling Stone, Vibe and Spin. Transferring those aggressively youthful ads into network television will snare millions more teenage targets of liquor producers. Messages designed for 21-year-olds will also have appeal for 18-year-olds and younger teens.

  • The increased dependence of broadcasters on revenue from alcoholic-beverage producers may also have more subtle and undesirable effects. Those include: influencing station programming decisions; compromising news and public service coverage of alcohol health and safety issues; jeopardizing licensees' implementation of their statutory public interest responsibilities; and hardening broadcaster opposition to policy efforts to balance pro-drinking advertising messages with public health information about the risks of alcohol consumption. Numerous studies have documented how the heavy reliance by some magazines on tobacco advertising revenues has distorted -- and in some cases, extinguished -- their coverage of health issues related to smoking.


    (1) A December, 2001 poll on broadcast liquor advertisements, conducted for the Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI) by Penn, Schoen & Berland Associates found that:

  • 72% of American adults support continuing a voluntary decision by television networks not to advertise liquor on television.

  • 68% of American adults oppose NBC’s decision to show liquor advertisements on television.

  • 79% of American adults think that liquor ads on TV will be a factor in causing young people under 21 to try liquor.

  • (2) According to AdWeek magazine (January 14, 2002), an online survey conducted by Initiative Media North America to gauge how viewers would react to liquor marketing on network television found:

  • More than two-thirds said liquor ads should be limited to responsible-drinking messages and not extend to product appeals.

  • 54% strongly or somewhat agreed that liquor ads should include responsible drinking and health warnings.

  • The most acceptable time for liquor ads is after 11 P.M.

  • Ira Sussman, Executive Vice President of the Initiative’s research branch noted that his firm’s research "argues for strict standards" and that "guidelines have to be a lot more stringent than what networks have developed on their own."

    (3) A recent TV Guide poll (January 14, 2002) found that:

  • More than half of those surveyed disapprove of NBC’s decision to air hard liquor advertisements.

  • 64% percent of women indicate hard liquor ads have no place on network television.

  • 57% of those surveyed believe teens would be influenced by hard liquor commercials.


    (1) Strasburger, V. C., & Donnerstein, E. (1999). Children, adolescents, and the media: Issues and solutions. Pediatrics, 103(1):129-139.

  • Young people view approximately 20,000 commercials each year, or which nearly 2,000 are for beer and wine.

  • For every "just say no" or "know when to say when" public service announcement, teens will view 25 to 50 beer and wine advertisements.

  • (2) Gentile, D. A., Walsh, D. A., Bloomgren, B. W., Atti, J. A, & Norman, J. A. (2001). Frogs sell beer: The effects of beer advertisements on adolescent drinking knowledge, attitudes, and behavior. Paper presented at the Biennial Conference of the Society for Research in Child Development, Minneapolis, Minnesota.

  • This study suggests that media and advertisements are a significant predictor, and perhaps the most significant predictor, of adolescents’ (1) knowledge about beer brands, (2) preference for beer brands, (3) current drinking behaviors, (4) beer brand loyalty, and (5) intentions to drink.

  • The most heavily advertised brands of beer (in 1998 and 1999) had the highest brand awareness, brand preference, brand usage and brand loyalty among junior and senior high school students. This finding suggests a correlation between beer advertising budgets and adolescent drinking.

  • (3) Grube, J. W. & Wallack, L. (1994). Television beer advertising and drinking knowledge, beliefs, and intentions among schoolchildren. American Journal of Public Health, 84(2):254-259.

  • The findings of this study suggest that alcohol advertising may predispose young people to drinking.

  • Children who were more aware of beer advertisements held more favorable beliefs about drinking, intended to drink more frequently as adults, and had more knowledge of beer brands and slogans.

  • Taken as a whole, the findings of this study suggest that attempts to prevent or delay drinking among young people should give attention to alcohol advertising. In particular, efforts should be made to reduce the extent to which it appeals to children and to reduce their exposure to it.

  • (4) Recent research funded by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and conducted by Charles Atkin (Department of Communication, Michigan State University) and Esther Thorson (School of Journalism, University of Missouri), based on a national sample of 612 young adults ages 21 to 29 found that:

  • 21% of those paying higher attention vs. 10% paying low attention to TV ads report heavier weekly alcohol consumption.

  • Averaging across eight specific liquor brands, 37% of those who pay higher attention to TV ads vs. 21% who pay low attention report annual consumption of those brands.

  • In the past year, 44% of young adults paying higher attention to TV ads have tried a new brand of liquor (compared to 30% of respondents paying low attention).

  • A national sample of 608 youth aged 15-20 found that:

  • 38% of teenagers who pay higher attention to TV ads vs. 21% of those paying lower attention report an intention to consume two or more liquor drinks per week in the future.

  • By a six-to-one margin,15-20 year olds believe that it’s riskier for teenagers to drink liquor than beer, and that teens are likelier to get drunk from liquor than beer.

  • Most teenagers and young adults feel that liquor advertisers want teens to view their TV ads, and a majority say TV advertisers are trying to influence teens to drink liquor. In a national poll, only one-fourth of all adults believe that liquor advertisers can be trusted to show appropriate content in TV ads. When asked about the potential impact if liquor becomes widely-advertised on TV, the typical adult estimates that more than half of all teenage viewers would be influenced to start drinking liquor.

  • Focus group discussions with middle school and high school students showed that these ad features are appealing to youthful audiences: sexy, young-looking and "cool" characters, cute animals, humor, sports, upbeat music, fast-paced action, and the portrayal of fun party scenes.

  • 1. Strasburger, V.C.; Donnerstein, E. "Children, Adolescents, and the Media: Issues and Solutions," Pediatrics, 103:(1):129- 139, 1999.
    2. Ibid
    3. Adams Business Media. (2001). Beer Handbook. Norwalk, CT.
    4. Adams Business Media. (2001). Liquor Handbook. Norwalk, CT.
    5. Grube, J. And Wallack, L; "Television Beer Advertising and Drinking Knowledge, Beliefs, and Intentions Among Schoolchildren," American Journal of Public Health, Vol. 84, No. 2, p. 254 (1994).
    6. Federal Trade Commission. (1999). Self-Regulation in the Alcohol Industry: A Review of Industry Efforts to Avoid Promoting Alcohol to Underage Consumers. Washington, DC.
    7. Lorillard Tobacco Co. v. Reilly, 533 U. S. 525 (2001).
    8. Nielsen Media Research. (October 1999).
    9. Roberts, D. F., Foehr, U. G., Rideout, V. J., & Brodie, M. (1999). Kids & media @ the new millennium. Menlo Park, CA: The Henry J. Kaiser Family Foundation.
    10. Ibid.
    11. Ibid.
    12. Grant, B. F., & Dawson, D. A. (1997). Age at Onset of Alcohol Use and its Association with DSM-IV Alcohol Abuse and Dependence: Results from the National Longitudinal Alcohol Epidemiologic Survey. Journal of Substance Abuse, 9:101- 110.
    13. Kann, L., et al. (2000). Youth Risk Behavior Surveillance -- United States, 1999. Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report, Vol. 49(SS05): 1-96.
    14. National Highway Transportation Safety Administration, National Center for Statistics and Analysis, 1999.
    15. Levy, D. T., Miller, T. R., & Cox, K. C. (1999). Costs of Underage Drinking. Calverton, MD: Pacific Institute for Research and Evaluation.
    16. Friedman, Wayne, Advertising Age magazine (January 7, 2002), Nearly All NBC Prime-Time Shows Qualify For Liquor Ads. Observers: Network's New Policies May Unleash a Flood of Booze Promos.

    Click here to view action alert on broadcast liquor ads, or click here for additional information
    on alcohol advertising.

    February 2002