JULY 7, 2005




Findings and Recommendations from a Youth Perspective

AUGUSTA, ME -- Great parties, attractive people, getting the guy or girl and being popular were the themes most often remembered by both boys and girls, ages 13-18, when surveyed about their response to alcohol advertising in the various media. More than two-thirds of the nearly 500 youth surveyed across Maine believe that the alcohol industry is trying to appeal to underage youth through its advertising. Moreover, according to the Maine Youth Empowerment and Policy (YEP) group, the survey results indicate that alcohol advertising encourages underage individuals to drink, resulting in legal, social and health problems for Maine youth.

Organized in 2001 to study policy questions regarding substance abuse and youth, the YEP group is composed of 15 high school and college students from across the state. The project was formed by AdCare Educational Institute of Augusta with a grant from the Maine Department of Health and Human Services’ Office of Substance Abuse (OSA). Each year the YEP group selects a new substance abuse related topic that they feel significantly affects Maine youth and requires a youth perspective. The goal of this project is to identify and change factors in the social, legal, economic and political environment that encourage, enable or support underage drinking. The YEP group wants to bring alcohol awareness to the forefront in the hope that communities start to consider youth consumption of alcohol as a serious problem.

The survey results from the group’s report – Alcohol Advertising and Underage Drinking: A Youth Perspective – support YEP’s hypothesis that many alcohol advertisements appeal to underage individuals.

Some of the report’s findings include:

  • Appeal to Youth: More than two-thirds of those surveyed report that alcohol advertising appeals to underage youth. This finding was consistent across different types of media (television, radio, magazines, point of purchase).
  • Ads Appear to Include Underage Youth: Over half the youth surveyed who saw alcohol advertisements in magazines and on TV, believed that the people in the ads could be under the age of 21.
  • Voluntary Standards: The YEP group determined that the voluntary standards found in the alcohol industry’s advertising and marketing codes are inadequate for limiting exposure of youth to advertising that has great appeal to underage individuals.
  • Impact of Ads: More than two-thirds of the youth surveyed felt that current alcohol advertising practices encourage underage individuals to drink.

One of the most striking aspects of the survey results is the consistency between themes remembered about alcohol ads and the feelings and thoughts generated by these ads; great parties, attractive people, getting the guy or girl, and being popular were the themes remembered most by both males and females.

The YEP group’s findings and recommendations are based on these two conclusions: alcohol advertising appeals to underage individuals and alcohol advertising encourages underage individuals to drink. The report reflects the youths’ belief that the industry needs to change its message and approach to advertising if it wants to meet its self-proclaimed goal of not encouraging youth to drink.

According to the findings in the report, YEP has developed the following recommendations:

* Retail Responsibility – Stores should place alcohol advertising away from the aisles most frequented by children and youth.

* Magazine Ads – Placement of alcohol ads in magazines should be reviewed since today’s youth have changing interests and are reading a wide variety of magazines such as Sports Illustrated and Cosmopolitan.

* Beer Institute’s Advertising & Marketing Code – The code states that alcohol advertising should not have a “primary appeal” to persons under the legal purchase age. The YEP group recommends conducting research in collaboration with national prevention experts to determine what appeals to underage youth as well as to persons over 21 years of age and compare the results. Then take the findings and design ads that appeal to older individuals more than they appeal to underage individuals.

* Brand Recognition – If, as the alcohol industry claims, the goal of advertising is for brand recognition, then advertising should focus more on brand recognition than the overall appeal of alcohol.

* Health Issues – When including “drink responsibly” in advertising, the industry should expand the definition to include health issues beyond drunk driving, such as risks associated with drinking by youth.

* Actors/actresses over 30 – Advertising agencies for the industry should employ actors/actresses who are at the minimum of 30 years old, so they look no younger than the age of 25.

* Review of All Ads – The Beer Institute and the Distilled Spirits Council of the U.S. (DISCUS) should have all alcohol ads reviewed prior to release to ensure that they meet the minimum standards of their codes.

The representatives of YEP feel that all factors contributing to alcohol abuse need to be examined, as everyone shares in the responsibility to reduce underage drinking. Many groups are engaged in research projects designed to approach the issue from a variety of different angles adding valuable information to the discussion. Young people under 21 years of age can provide a special perspective on the appeal and potential impact of alcohol advertising, based on first hand experience. That was the purpose of this project.

Full text of this report and previous reports developed by the YEP group are available at