Alcohol Counter-Advertising and the Media: A Review of Recent Research

Article excerpt

Counter-advertising commonly is used to balance the effects that alcohol advertising may have on alcohol consumption and alcohol-related problems. Such measures can take the form of print or broadcast advertisements (e.g., public service announcements [PSAs]) as well as product warning labels. The effectiveness of both types of counter-advertising is reviewed using the Elaboration Likelihood Model as a theoretical framework. For print and broadcast counter-advertisements, such factors as their emotional appeal and the credibility of the source, as well as audience factors, can influence their effectiveness. Further, brewer-sponsored counter-advertisements are evaluated and received differently than are the more conventional PSA counter-advertisements. For warning labels, both the content and design of the label influence their effectiveness, as do audience factors. The effectiveness of those labels is evaluated in terms of the extent to which they impact cognitive and affective processes as well as drinking b ehavior. KEY WORDS: counter-advertising; alcohol or other drug (AOD) product advertising; AOD advertising impact; warning label; public service announcement; mass media prevention approach; behavioral change; survey of research


Widespread concern exists among policymakers and the public about the potential effects of alcohol advertising on alcohol consumption and problems, especially among children and adolescents. It is especially important to counter the potential effects of advertising on young people because these age groups may be more susceptible to those effects. Children are less able to discriminate between advertising and other media content and are less critical of commercial messages than are adults (Atkin 1995). Moreover, recent studies of children and adolescents (e.g., Casswell and Zhang 1998; Grube and Wallack 1994; Wyllie et al. 1998) have shown that attention to and liking of alcohol advertising are related to (1) greater knowledge about alcohol slogans and beer brands, (2) more favorable beliefs about drinking, (3) increased intentions to drink as an adult, and (4) increased drinking. Similarly, it may be important to counter the potential effects of alcohol advertising on young adults, and especially college stu dents, who frequently are at risk for heavy and problematic drinking (Wechsler et al. 2000).

A recent national survey indicates that 67 percent of adults in the United States support banning liquor advertisements on television and 61 percent favor banning beer and wine advertisements in this medium (Wagenaar et al. 2000). Similarly, public health advocates routinely call for the strict regulation or even elimination of alcohol advertising, and initiatives at the community level frequently focus on reducing local alcohol advertising. In part, concerns about alcohol advertising result from its pervasiveness. In 1999, the alcoholic beverage industry spent $1.24 billion on alcohol advertising (Center for Science in the Public Interest 2001). Most of these expenditures ($796.3 million) were concentrated on television and radio commercials; among beverage types, beer advertising accounted for the majority of the spending ($799.7 million). Consistent with these data, studies document that alcohol advertising, and particularly beer advertising, is a relatively frequent occurrence on television, especially in sports programming. For example, approximately two alcohol advertisements appear in each hour of major professional sports programming, compared with approximately one alcohol advertisement in every 4 hours of entertainment programming (Grube 1993, 1995; Madden and Grube 1994).

To address and counteract the pervasiveness of alcohol advertising, policymakers can take several approaches. In addition to the restrictions on alcohol advertising discussed above, counter-advertising--the presentation of factual information and persuasive messages through the media--is such an approach. …