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Alcohol Advertising – How It Influences Youth Perceptions on Drinking

This month, Ryan Shafer, Community Development Specialist with the Clay County Health Center, describes the effect of alcohol advertising on youth, and the correlation it has with underage drinking.

Advertising is everywhere, and alcohol-related advertising is no exception. In 2011 alone, 14 major alcohol marketers spent a whopping $3.45 billion on advertising.1 According to the Journal of Studies on Alcohol and Drugs, youth aged 11 to 14 see an average of 2 to 4 alcohol advertisements every day.2 While the purpose of advertising is to inform consumers about a product, it’s also meant to enhance a company’s image and convince customers to make a purchase. This has the potential to be dangerous in situations where alcohol ads are put in front of the eyes of youth.

The Research

Alcohol companies try to portray their brand as cool, stylish, and fun. Anyone who was once a teenager can attest to how appealing that would seem! Wanting to feel popular and liked is normal, but for a high schooler, feeling popular can mean everything. 

So what impact does alcohol advertising have on youth, and is there a correlation to underage drinking? A study that followed 7th to 9th graders examined this question in-depth and found that ads did in fact have a profound effect on underage drinking. 

At the start, students were divided into two groups; initial non-drinkers (who had never had a sip of alcohol) and initial drinkers. What they found was that by grade 9, nearly half of the 7th graders that were non-drinkers became drinkers, and that in-store advertisements had the greatest influence with this group.3

Other studies published found similar results. A 2015 study found that receptivity to television alcohol advertising among underage participants was a predictor of the onset of drinking, binge drinking, and hazardous drinking.4 Findings from another study revealed that the more alcohol advertisements youth saw above the average resulted in an increase in the number of drinks they consumed each month.5 

What Can Parents Do?

Beyond modelling responsible behavior, it’s important for parents to have conversations with their kids in order to empower them to make smart choices independent of the influence of big corporations. As a parent, you have significant influence over your child’s choices. In fact, a 2016 Roper youth report found that parents have 71 times more influence on their child’s decision to drink than alcohol advertising.6  

The Federal Trade Commission has created a list of guiding questions to help improve the “media literacy” of your child and teach them to think critically about the advertisements they see. Tailoring the message to your child’s age and attention level, pick an ad you see and draw out their thoughts by asking questions like:

  • Who created or paid for the ad, and why?
  • What do they want you to do?
  • What techniques are being used to make the scene and the product look attractive? For example, 
    • Who are the people in the ad and how do they look?  
    • What are they doing, and where? 
    • Does the ad try to associate the brand with fun, or sports, or humor? How?
    • Does the ad suggest that alcohol somehow makes the situation better?
    • How does this ad make you feel? Is this an accident, or did the advertiser intend it?
    • What message is the ad trying to get you to believe?
    • What values and lifestyles are represented by this ad?
    • What isn’t the ad saying? Does it show anything bad about alcohol? 

The aim of this exercise is to help your child better understand an ad and challenge the message behind it. It’s meant to help your child realize that they don’t have to accept an advertiser’s message at face value.

Start the Conversation on Underage Drinking Today

You can’t always control all the advertising your child gets exposed to, but you can empower them to think critically and make smart decisions. The conversations you have with your child about drinking will have a bigger impact than you think! Teaching your teenagers to evaluate advertisements and question the purpose behind them is a critical first step in allowing them to make smart decisions.

Unsure of how to approach a conversation about drinking with your child? Check out our list of talking points to help guide the conversation.

Ryan Shafer

Ryan Shafer is a Community Development Specialist with the Clay County Health Center in Liberty Missouri. In 2015 he earned his master’s in public health from the University of Missouri focusing on policy and behavior change. As a Community Development Specialist he works with numerous school coalitions on implementing tobacco and alcohol prevention programs based on the latest research available. He is passionate about improving the health of communities through creating partnerships, implementing policies, and use of best practices to progress health equity for all.


1. Federal Trade Commission. (2014). Self-Regulation in the Alcohol Industry

2. Collins, R. L., Martino, S. C., Kovalchik, S. A., Becker, K. M., Shadel, W. G., & D’Amico, E. J. (May 2016). Alcohol advertising exposure among middle school–age youth: An assessment across all media and venues. Journal of Studies on Alcohol and Drugs, 77(3), 384–392

3. Collins, Rebecca L., Phyllis L. Ellickson, Daniel F. McCaffrey, and Katrin Hambarsoomian, Forging the Link Between Alcohol Advertising and Underage Drinking. Santa Monica, CA: RAND Corporation, 2006. Accessed on June 10th, 2019 Available at:

4. Tanski SE, McClure AC, Li Z, et al. Cued Recall of Alcohol Advertising on Television and Underage Drinking Behavior. JAMA Pediatr. 2015;169(3):264–271. doi:10.1001/jamapediatrics.2014.3345

5. L.B. Snyder, F.F. Milici, M. Slater, H. Sun, and Y. Strizhakova, “Effects of Alcohol Advertising Exposure on Drinking Among Youth,” Archives of Pediatrics and Adolescent Medicine 160 (2006): 18-24

6. GfK Roper Youth Report. Americans age 13-17.2016 Accessed on June 27th, 2019. Available at: 

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