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Targeted ads could be spurring underage drinking

Researchers say marketing teams know what works to lure in young consumers

Photo (c) PamWalker68 - Getty Images
Marketing companies have been accused of targeting teens when it comes to vaping, so it should come as no surprise to many consumers that a similar trend has emerged with alcohol. 

According to a new study conducted by researchers from Iowa State University, marketing teams for beer companies are spurring on underage drinking by the way they target the attention of young people.

“We can’t say from this one study that advertisers are specifically targeting youth, but they are hitting them,” said researcher Douglas Gentile. “If you look at beer ads, advertisers are using all the tricks we know work at grabbing children’s attention.” 

Luring in young people

The researchers looked at two main factors to best determine the effect that beer manufacturers’ advertisements had on the likelihood that underage drinkers would purchase their products: the ads themselves and nearly 1,600 survey responses from students in grades seven through twelve. 

The study revealed that the beer manufacturers pulled out all the stops when it came to attracting young people, as they utilized techniques that most appeal to the younger demographic. The researchers explained that the companies may not be intentionally trying to tempt young people, but their efforts -- such as special effects, humor, and animation -- are all tactics that are used primarily in youth-focused ads. 

The survey responses discovered that the advertisers were effective, as 99 percent of young participants in the study recognized the top two beer advertisers on the market -- Budweiser and Bud Light. Moreover, 55 percent of the students had had at least one drink in the last year, and over 40 percent reported heavy drinking in that same time span. 

Many of the students involved in the study reported ads as one factor that could influence their drinking habits into adulthood. The researchers say it’s important for advertisers to understand the effect that their work has on people of all ages, though perhaps most importantly young people. 

“Viewers or readers aren’t thinking about the message through a critical lens,” said researcher Kristi Costabile. “Instead, audiences become immersed in a compelling story and identify with the characters, a process which leads them to unintentionally be persuaded by the messages of the story.” 

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