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).
Given the existence of a body of research on this topic in other national environments and of a public debate on the question in Italy, this research project was initiated to explore the advertising of alcoholic beverages in the Italian environment, an environment characterized by a drinking culture distinct from those of Nordic cultures.' In these cultures, the question has been the object of research for a number of years, although this research has given rise to wide differences of interpretation and to methodological criticism.
However, the purpose of this present study is not so much to evaluate the effect of advertising on alcohol consumption patterns of Italians as to investigate the values and models of identification carried and transmitted through advertising. In a socio-anthropological approach to the study of advertising, particular emphasis must be given to the culture transmitted by this advertising itself and to the function advertising serves as an agent for the socialization of the consumption of alcohol. …