October 3, 2011

Study: Alcohol advertising still reaching youth on the radio

Industry’s voluntary standards remain an issue, CAMY researchers say

Almost one out of 11 radio ads for alcoholic beverages in 75 markets across the nation failed to comply in 2009 with the alcohol industry’s voluntary standard for the placement of advertising, according to an analysis conducted by the Center on Alcohol Marketing and Youth at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health.

In 2003, trade groups for beer and distilled spirits committed to placing alcohol ads only in media venues where underage youth—meaning 20 years old and younger—comprise less than, or are equal to, 30 percent of the listening audience.

The analysis by the Center on Alcohol Marketing and Youth, or CAMY, found that 9 percent of the noncompliant ads were aired in the 75 markets in which nearly half the population is 12 and older. Three brands alone—Miller Lite, Bud Light and Coors Light—placed more than half of these violating ads.

The National Research Council, the Institute of Medicine and 24 state attorneys general have called on the alcohol industry to beef up its standard and meet a “proportional” 15 percent placement standard, given the fact that the group most at risk for underage drinking—12- to 20-year-olds—is approximately 15 percent of the U.S. population.

“A 9 percent failure rate for an already weak standard means that a significant number of young people are being overexposed to alcohol advertising on the radio,” said lead author David Jernigan, an associate professor in the Bloomberg School’s Department of Health, Behavior and Society, and CAMY director. “Reducing the voluntary standard to 15 percent would go a long way to keeping our young people safe and away from the undue influence of alcohol marketing. The influence of radio as a local media venue continues even in this dynamic digital age, as 93 percent of Americans ages 12 and older reported that they owned and/or used an AM/FM radio in 2011.”

For this report, CAMY analyzed radio alcohol advertisements in 75 local markets across the United States in 2009, for which full-year data from a consistent survey methodology were available. These markets represent 46.5 percent of the U.S. population age 12 and above. Other key findings include:

• In 2009, youth ages 12 to 20 were more likely per capita than adults to hear 32 percent of alcohol advertising placements.

• Distilled spirits were the most common type of alcohol advertisements to overexpose youth audiences in Portable People Meter markets. The PPM is a new method of measuring listening in which survey participants agree to wear a small device that receives a special signal from each radio station. PPM allows for more precise measurement of actual listening because it does not depend on participants’ active recall and does not require them to record their listening behavior in a paper diary.

• In diary markets—where the PPM is not yet in use and where people kept a paper diary of radio listening in 15-minute increments throughout the day—beer and alcopops (flavored malt beverages) advertising was most likely to overexpose youth.

• Fifteen brands garnered 25 percent or more of their exposure to youth in at least 10 percent of markets from advertising not in compliance with the industry’s 30 percent standard.

• In the majority of the 11 markets where Arbitron’s Portable People Meters were deployed for all of 2009, girls ages 12 to 20 were more likely than boys of the same age to be exposed to advertising for alcopops, distilled spirits and wine.

The perception that young people are listening to music only on their iPods, cell phones and the Internet is naive, Jernigan said. “Radio is still a source of entertainment for youth, and alcohol ads are still finding their way to too many young ears.”

Alcohol use is the leading drug problem among youth in the United States. It is responsible for 4,600 deaths per year among young people under the age of 21. Every day, nearly 5,000 young people under the age of 16 take their first drink, and binge drinking (defined as consuming five or more drinks within two hours) accounts for more than 90 percent of the alcohol consumed by young people.

At least 13 longitudinal research studies have found that the more young people are exposed to alcohol marketing, the more likely they are to start drinking or, if already drinking, to drink more.

The Center on Alcohol Marketing and Youth monitors the marketing practices of the alcohol industry to focus attention and action on industry practices that jeopardize the health and safety of America’s youth. The center was founded in 2002 at Georgetown University with funding from The Pew Charitable Trusts and Robert Wood Johnson Foundation. The center moved to the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health in 2008 and is currently funded by the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

For more information on the center, go to www.camy.org.