Study: Alcohol advertising does not have a significant impact on alcohol consumption

Nashwa Bawab

Although American alcohol advertising campaigns are closely monitored and regulated, they do not actually have a significant impact on alcohol consumption, according to research by a UT professor.  

Gary Wilcox, advertising and public relations professor, found that per-capita consumption of alcoholic beverages in the U.S. remained relatively constant between 1971 and 2011 , as did the size of the market for alcohol advertising.

Though there were some major changes in alcohol advertising, they were largely about the focus of those ads — adapting to new trends in liquor, wine and beer sales. But the overall alcohol market did not grow significantly over the 40-year period, so brands are largely competing for a bigger slice of a largely pre-established market, Wilcox said.

Alcohol advertisements are closely regulated in the United States. In Los Angeles and Philadelphia, the advertisements are banned from appearing on most public property. In San Francisco, alcohol can’t be advertised on public transportation. Wilcox said he believes regulating advertising is a convenient and easy target
for policymakers.

“Generally speaking, there has been a lot of criticism of advertising, even to the extent that advertising has been banned for the purpose of reducing alcohol consumption,” Wilcox said. “[The results of the study found that] advertising was not a factor in the amount of alcohol people would drink. Instead, the implications were that advertising is there to help you decide what to drink.”

Advertising sophomore Julie Nguyen said it made sense to her that alcohol advertisements might only affect those who already drink alcohol.

“I believe people’s morals are already set when it comes to making decisions about alcohol. Alcohol advertising truly just excites people’s desires, and they want to drink alcohol because they already do it,” Nguyen said. “It’s so easy to just picture your life with the product and then finally have it trigger your desires. And that’s what advertising is — desire.”

Understanding the dangers of drinking too much alcohol is the real issue most people face when it comes to alcohol consumption, according to corporate communication sophomore Ashley Na.

“People should be able to take control of their own lives. Completely banning alcohol ads alone takes away from our freedom of speech,“ Na said. “People should be an adult and take responsibility of their own mistakes, instead of blaming it on third-party things such as alcohol ads.”

Many alcohol companies don’t allow ads that show drunk people, abusive behavior or people driving because that’s not the intention of the product, according to Wilcox. He said this tight regulation sometimes limits the companies’ freedom of expression.

“Firms are allowed to compete for the consumer’s choice, and if you restrict that, then you kind of hobble the economy a little bit and also hobble people’s freedoms of receiving truthful information about legal products,” Wilcox said. “There are wonderful organizations that look into problems with abusive alcohol behavior, and those things need to be encouraged, not restricting the advertisement messages.”