Studying the Effects of Alcohol Advertising on Consumption

By Saffer, Henry | Alcohol Health & Research World, January 1, 1996 | Go to article overview

Studying the Effects of Alcohol Advertising on Consumption


Saffer, Henry, Alcohol Health & Research World


The effects of advertising on alcohol consumption (and alcohol abuse) are controversial, and research on the subject has produced mixed results. An economic theory underlying the general relationship between advertising and consumption can help explain this variance, however. Studies that use national data on annual alcohol advertising expenditures measure advertising at a high level with little yearly change and are likely to find no effect on consumption. In contrast, studies that use local-level data measured over the course of a year find wide variation in the level of advertising and are likely to conclude that alcohol advertising significantly increases alcohol consumption. To mitigate consumption increases, some countries and localities have tested alcohol advertising bans or counteradvertising campaigns. Studies of advertising bans show a decrease in alcohol consumption to some degree when intervening factors are controlled. Counteradvertising likewise reduces alcohol consumption. Thus, policymakers can choose from various forms and combinations of these strategies to curb consumption and, presumably, alcohol abuse. KEY WORDS: advertising; alcoholic beverage; AOD consumption; AOD abuse; economic theory; prevention strategy; public health; legal regulation; cigarette; marketing; communication media

Alcohol advertising is a public health problem if it increases alcohol abuse. Yet despite considerable and well-documented levels of both alcohol advertising and alcohol abuse, the link between the two remains controversial. According to Leading National Advertisers (LNA) (1995), the alcoholic beverage industry spent more than $1 billion in 1994 for traditional media advertising (i.e., broadcast and cable television, radio, magazines, billboards, and newspapers). In addition, The Economist (1990) estimates that the industry annually spends a roughly equal amount on other forms of promotion, such as store displays, consumer novelties, and sponsorships of cultural and sports events. Likewise, the level of alcohol abuse is substantial. The National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA) estimates that in 1992, 14 million Americans met the diagnostic criteria for alcohol abuse or dependence' (Grant et al. 1994). The Institute also estimates that in 1990 approximately 100,000 alcohol-related deaths took place, with roughly one-fourth of those deaths occurring on the highways (NIAAA 1993).

Does alcohol advertising increase alcohol abuse? The alcohol industry contends that advertising only induces consumers to switch from one brand of alcoholic beverage to another. In contrast, public health advocates assert that alcohol advertising increases total alcohol consumption and alcohol abuse. The challenge for researchers is to elucidate the true relationship between alcohol advertising and consumption and help resolve this controversy by providing solid data and well-grounded analyses.

Most studies on alcohol advertising examine the effect advertising has on alcohol consumption, measured in terms of either taxable withdrawals2 or self-reported consumption. Although alcohol abuse, rather than alcohol consumption, is the public health issue of specific concern, several researchers (for example, Schmidt and Popham 1978) have concluded that a proportionate relationship exists between average and abusive alcohol consumption and that this relationship is consistent for different populations. Accordingly, as average alcohol consumption increases in a population, abusive alcohol consumption can be expected to increase to the same degree. Following this reasoning, researchers consider average consumption to be a good proxy measure for alcohol abuse.

To examine the effects of alcohol advertising on alcohol consumption, researchers have turned to a type of statistical analysis called econometrics. Econometric studies attempt to determine how one economic variable (i.e., the dependent variable) responds to changes in other (i. …

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