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Beer Institute president: Parents, not ads, influence underage drinking

Beer advertising and marketing, said the president of the Beer Institute, doesn't play nearly as big a role in young people's decision to drink underage as their parents do.
Beer advertising and marketing, said the president of the Beer Institute, doesn't play nearly as big a role in young people's decision to drink underage as their parents do. Michael Fajardo/Flickr Creative Commons

As we detailed in a post on Tuesday, Bud Light is the alcohol of choice for underage drinkers, according to a recent survey that gauged the taste of people who legally shouldn't be drinking.

The study, appearing in the journal Alcoholism: Clinical & Experimental Research, listed the top 25 preferred brands among imbibers younger than 21, and beer was more than popular: Besides Bud Light's No. 1 spot, there were also appearances by the following:

  • Budweiser (No. 3)
  • Coors Light (No. 5)
  • Corona Extra (No. 7)
  • Heineken (No. 11)
  • Blue Moon (No. 13)
  • Miller Lite (No. 16)
  • Keystone Light (No. 20)
  • Corona Extra Light (No. 24)

Underage drinkers, in other words, like beer.

The study wanted to figure out which brands they liked so they could start to figure out how advertising affects consumption, noting that the "most important function of alcohol advertising" is "developing brand capital – that is, the meaning and emotion associated with a brand."

But Joe McClain, the president of the Beer Institute, which represents the $223-billion beer industry, cites a survey conducted by research company GfK Roper (at the behest of Anheuser-Busch) which suggests that parents, not ads, have the most influence on whether someone drinks underage. Among the findings:

  • Since 1991, parents have been the strongest source of influence on youth regarding their decisions to drink (or not).
  • 1.8 percent of youth between 13 and 17 said what they saw in ads was the main source of influence on them.
  • 73.1 percent said their parents were their main influence when it came to drinking; 8.4 percent said the same about their best friends.
  • The level of parent influence was higher among black youth (82.4 percent) and lower among Latinos (68.6 percent).

McClain also pointed to federal statistics, which show that underage drinking among youth between 12 and 20 years old has been on a trend of decline since 2002.

"At the end of the day, we support the timeless value of parents talking to their children about making good, safe decisions," he said in a statement sent to KPCC, in response to Tuesday's post.

He also noted the Beer Institute's advertising guidelines for its members, which McClain says encourages them to "market their products in a responsible manner to only adults of legal drinking age":

Advertising or marketing materials should avoid elements that appeal primarily to persons under the legal drinking age.

In doing so, say the guidelines, marketers should keep in mind the symbols, language, music, gestures, celebrities, cartoon characters and organizations used in their ads. To that end:

Models and actors employed to appear in beer advertising and marketing materials should be a minimum of 25 years old, substantiated by proper identification, and should reasonably appear to be over 21 years of age.

But the Center on Alcohol Marketing and Youth at Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health is one organization that might contest the role of alcohol advertising on youth as portrayed by Anheuser-Busch: It holds that alcohol ads and marketing "have a significant impact on youth decisions to drink," citing multiple studies, including one that found exposure to in-store beer displays in the seventh grade was a reliable predictor of drinking in the ninth grade.

The role of advertising notwithstanding, one thing remains clear: Underage drinkers like Bud Light.

Photo by Michael Fajardo via Flickr Creative Commons.

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