Advertising alcohol takes place via a mix of strategies and across a variety of media. TV and film offer a compelling visual display, with the Internet playing a significant role in advertising accessibility. Radio advertisements, printed works and point-of-sale promotions all contribute to the promotion of alcohol sales. Sports and cultural events also offer an opportunity for an association with brand names.
Although policies pertaining to the restriction of alcohol sales exist in all Western countries, nevertheless, the use of alcohol is promoted through the media. The question is raised regarding active promotion of alcohol versus constraint in order to reduce harm caused by misuse of alcohol. While there are movements toward laws banning alcohol advertising in certain arenas, opposition manifests in vested industries. Where the content of broadcasting might be subject to codes of practice, the issue of the message inherent in alcohol advertising is not necessarily addressed. This includes the concept of drinking, shown in advertisements as a lifestyle that appears fun and at times glamorous.
Some research indicates that alcohol advertising has a small, albeit contributory, effect on individual drinking behavior. Likewise, the link exists with harm caused by heightened levels of alcohol, with occurrences like road fatalities. Research indicates further that there is an interrelationship between alcohol advertising and how this influences perceptions regarding alcohol.
In all countries where alcohol is sold, advertising and other marketing practices are utilized to promote sales. In Western countries, selling alcohol and the management of venues carrying alcohol require adherence to state laws and licenses. The question is raised as to what extent advertising should be controlled by state laws or when voluntary self-regulation in the industry is acceptable.
Those in support of alcohol advertising emphasize the legal aspect of drinking by adults. The argument is that adults have the freedom or right to choose to receive information on legal products.
Advertising and marketing of alcohol promote the appeal of drinking. In English-speaking countries, approximately 10 percent of drinkers are said to drink half the total alcohol consumed. Young males are the cream of the recruitment market, with many becoming heavy consumers of alcohol. This group is statistically more involved in alcohol-related harmful situations, such as drunk driving, injuries and premature mortality. Evidence suggests that by age 30, the heavy drinking population is reduced. The idea is that advertising then seeks to recruit the new generation in order to supplement sales and profit markets.
Alcohol advertising appears directly or indirectly via media outlets, with a portrayal of drinking in entertainment appearing in an unproblematic light. Thus, drinking cultures gain affirmation, and new generations of youth grow up perceiving drinking alcohol in a particular manner. An environment supportive of the industry appears to be natural. Currently, alcohol advertising does not give accurate information regarding health issues.
Breweries and wineries spend billions of dollars annually on advertising in the media. The target audience lies largely with the youth, and a lucrative income is gained from the purchase of alcohol the advertising generates. According to the National Clearing House of Alcohol and Drug Information, students in U.S. colleges spend approximately $4.2 billion a year on alcoholic beverages. Since most students are under 21, they are drinking illegally in most states. Ironically, alcohol advertising is geared predominantly to this age range. Commercials often feature attractive young models, supposedly enjoying a fun-filled activity while sipping their favorite alcoholic drink. Happy scenarios are shown, with the purchase of a six pack offering good times and social acceptance.
Concerns have been raised with respect to alcohol abuse, citing the promotion of alcohol as a means toward addiction and alcoholism. The negative effects on health, and the influence on social and physical environments, contribute to the attitude that alcohol advertising should be curtailed. Deaths due to driving under the influence of alcohol are highlighted. The link to crime and forms of abuse to others, including children, has garnered attention. The advertising and marketing industry counteract the argument, claiming that advertising only encourages those already drinking to choose a particular brand rather than eliciting usage by non-drinkers. If alcohol advertising were disallowed, the industry would feel the impact financially.