Italian Alcohol Advertising: A Qualitative Content Analysis

By Beccaria, Franca | Contemporary Drug Problems, Fall 2001 | Go to article overview

Italian Alcohol Advertising: A Qualitative Content Analysis


Beccaria, Franca, Contemporary Drug Problems


The role of alcoholic beverage advertising in alcohol consumption and in changes in drinking patterns has received considerable attention from alcohol researchers in countries with temperance traditions but none in Italy. This paper is a content analysis of alcoholic beverage advertising in a sample of 41 Italian television advertisements, taped from six national television channels. Beer in advertisements was consumed primarily outside the home and not at meals. Wine was shown as being drunk at meals in a convivial framework, with no representation of everyday domestic consumption. Advertisements for sparkling wine show consumption in a context of celebration, and often, as in advertisements for aperitifs, with erotic overtones. From the advertisements for digestive liqueurs, the makers appear to be trying to move to a younger market. Some advertising seems directed specifically at women, whose consumption has declined in Italy in recent years. In general, alcohol advertisers seem to be attempting to move alcohol consumption into new situations beyond the traditional mealtime table.

KEY WORDS: Alcohol advertising, content analysis, contexts of drinking.

From among the many social and cultural factors that can influence opinions, attitudes and behavior with regard to alcohol-factors such as family context and peer groupsthis study intends to evaluate only one key instrument for representing behavior with alcohol: advertising, which is a key means for communicating the values of using alcoholic beverages.

The theme of the impact of advertising on the consumption of alcohol has been widely studied in the Anglo-Saxon and Scandinavian countries (Montonen, 1995). The findings of this research are far from helpful. The research has concerned itself primarily with the question of whether advertising of alcoholic beverages contributes, either directly or indirectly, to the maintenance or increase of levels of alcohol consumption, and therefore whether it is justifiable to ban or to limit this type of advertising in countries where the legal regulation of such advertising is weak or absent, or whether, in countries where there are such regulatory controls, these controls should be relaxed.

While many theorists hold that the advertising of alcoholic beverages has a direct effect on attitudes and behavior toward alcohol, empirical studies have found a weak correlation or an absence of correlation (Ogborne & Smart, 1980; Smith, 1990; Sobell et al., 1986). Many scholars maintain that undue emphasis has been placed on the ability of the media to influence alcohol-related behavior, since alcoholism is related to a complex of socio-cultural, psychological and biological factors. On the other hand, other researchers have shown the existence of a positive correlation between the presentation of alcoholic beverages in advertising and patterns of consumption, and that advertising, as an informal source of socialization with alcohol, seems to contribute to the formulation of a positive image of alcohol (Atkin, 1984; Aitken et al., 1988; Austin & Meili, 1994; Grube & Wallack, 1994; Saffer, 1991).

In Italy, while alcohol is freely promoted and sold, in recent years the question has been widely debated and addressed in proposals for legislation to control, to a greater or lesser degree, the advertising of alcoholic beverages. The legislation presently in force, enacted in 1991 in accordance with European norms, requires that such advertising must not:

- Be directed specifically to minors.

- Connect alcohol consumption with physical prowess or driving.

- Suggest that alcohol has therapeutic properties.

- Encourage excessive use.

- Emphasize unduly a high alcohol content.

- Create the impression that the consumption of alcohol contributes to social or sexual success.

Among the many legislative proposals introduced in Parliament in recent years intended to limit the damage caused by alcohol consumption, a few provide for, along with other measures, a greater or lesser degree of limitation in advertising alcoholic beverages (Donnini, 1994; Beccaria, 1997). …

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