The Science Behind the Advertising of Alcohol

by Jennifer McDougall

The alcohol industry can be hard to avoid. You see advertisements for beer and wine on television, in magazines, and even on billboards and store signs. But do you know how these ads are made? The alcohol industry spends millions of dollars each year on advertising campaigns designed to promote their products to young people and skeptics alike—and research shows that these marketing efforts have significant effects on people’s behavior. So let’s take a look at what the study says about how the alcohol industry targets teen alcohol use and why this is such a critical issue in our society today.

Alcohol advertising leads to alcohol abuse.

This is a fact that is not up for debate and has been proven by numerous studies. Alcohol companies spend millions of dollars on advertisements, lobbying efforts, and other advertising tactics to influence people’s opinions and norms surrounding drinking. Here’s how it works:

  • Advertising campaigns target young drinkers and skeptics by downplaying the adverse effects of alcohol consumption.
  • Advertising campaigns also increase or create new social pressures for drinking behavior in certain situations (e.g., “it’s 5 o’clock somewhere!”).
  • One study found that exposure to alcohol advertisements increased participants’ perceived likelihood that others would be drinking at an upcoming event (i.e., peer pressure).

Alcohol is the most widely used substance among youth.

Alcohol is the most commonly abused drug in the U.S. and worldwide, with approximately 18 million Americans aged 12 or older meeting the criteria for alcohol dependence in 2016. In 2010, it was estimated that 16.3 percent of all high school students had been drunk at least once in their lifetimes, and 6.3 percent were binge drinkers (i.e., consumed five or more drinks on one occasion) during the previous month; 6 percent reported a heavy drinking episode (i.e., consumed ten or more drinks per occasion) within two weeks before completing a survey.

Alcohol ads are pervasive.

The message that alcohol is fun and healthy is hard to escape.

Alcohol ads are everywhere: on billboards, in magazines, online, and on T.V. In fact, about half of all commercials during prime time television are for alcohol. They’re also at sports stadiums and sporting events like baseball games—even when minors are present. The industry even advertises heavily at social gatherings like festivals and concerts; a recent study found that these events have higher rates of binge drinking than any other.

As if this weren’t enough exposure for young people who see these ads every day (and night), now we have mobile devices with internet access at our fingertips 24/7—which means we can see alcohol ads while checking Facebook or watching YouTube videos. And did I mention magazines? Magazines have featured some pretty corny beer ads where women playfully drape themselves over bottles because they can’t get enough of their favorite brews.

Alcohol companies target young drinkers and skeptics

Young people are more likely to drink alcohol and less likely than older adults to be skeptical of the dangers of drinking. This means that youth are also more susceptible to advertising that encourages alcohol use.

The alcohol industry spends millions on advertisements promoting happy, carefree drinking.

The most common theme in these ads is people having fun and being carefree as they drink their favorite alcoholic beverage. These advertisements often portray drinking as the norm, with no adverse consequences. For example:

  • A man sits at home to enjoy a beer while watching his favorite sporting event on T.V.
  • Two women enjoy their margaritas while chatting about their days over lunch.

These types of images have been shown time and time again in alcohol advertising over the years. Still, researchers have always assumed that there was no connection between what we see in advertising and our own behaviors regarding drinking alcohol – until now.

The alcohol industry also spends millions on lobbying efforts to undermine policies that would reduce underage drinking and drunk driving.

The alcohol industry also spends millions on lobbying efforts to undermine policies that would reduce underage drinking and drunk driving. According to the Center for Responsive Politics, the beer, wine, and liquor industries spent $166 million on federal lobbying in 2017 alone. These efforts include a lobbying campaign against marijuana legalization due to its potential impact on alcohol sales; a successful effort to roll back regulations proposed by former President Obama that would have limited the marketing of flavored alcohol beverages; and millions spent pushing legislation in state legislatures around the country that would preempt local governments from passing their own laws restricting advertising or sale of sugary energy drinks (a market dominated by Anheuser-Busch InBev).

Advertising can influence people’s opinions of social norms by making some behaviors seem more prevalent than they are.

Social norms are the rules of behavior that govern how we act in a group. The advertising of alcohol can influence people’s opinion of social norms by making some behaviors seem more prevalent than they are. For example, advertising can make drinking look cool or even necessary to fit in with friends. This perception is reinforced when teenagers see their peers doing it, and they consider it normal to drink while at parties or on the weekends.

The alcohol industry is targeting young people, which can lead to unhealthy use of alcohol.

Alcohol is a legal drug, but that doesn’t mean it’s harmless.

In the U.S., the minimum age for purchasing and possessing alcohol is 21 years old (although some states have slightly lower ages). However, there are no federal laws against marketing or advertising alcoholic beverages directly to underage consumers—which means that companies are free to target young people with their advertisements wherever they want.

With so many resources at their disposal, it’s not surprising that companies often choose digital media outlets like Facebook or Instagram. These sites allow brands to target specific demographics within an audience they’ve already compiled through other sources such as surveys or click-based advertising campaigns—and then deliver content tailored specifically toward those groups’ interests and preferences based on previous interactions with each user account profile page.


This post aimed to provide a comprehensive overview of alcohol marketing practices and their potential effects on young people. We hope that it serves as a starting point for further exploration of the topic by other researchers, educators, and policymakers. We also believe that this information should be made available to the public so they can make informed decisions about their own consumption patterns or discuss with their children how they should react when exposed to these advertisements.

Also read: How to Discover Your True Self

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