Beer Companies Target Kids In Violation of Industry Standards

By Jeff Forester 09/23/11

The head of the Center on Alcohol Marketing and Youth explains to The Fix why Budweiser, Coors and Miller are screwing up on air.

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America's leading beer manufacturers have long been prohibited by Congress and the Supreme Court from targeting their advertising at kids. But a study of 75 US local radio markets by the Center on Alcohol Marketing and Youth (CAMY) alleges that the nation's most popular brews have deliberately ignored these prohibitions by advertising on radio stations to listeners under the age of 21.  "Alcohol advertising works on young people," said CAMY Executive Director David Jernigan, who claims that a slew of studies in recent years "show a strong association between youth exposure to alcohol advertising and underage drinking." His organization's study found that 9% of alcohol advertising aired on on the radio was deliberately targeted to underage audiences, while 32% of alcohol ads ran when the majority of the listeners were under 21. Such ads violate supposedly self-enforced standards that strictly prohibit alcohol companies from advertising to minors—a decade ago, the nation's billion-dollar beer industry announced an initiative to prevent underaged consumers from being exposed to ads promoting liquor or other alcoholic brands. Unfortunately, the much-ballyhooed initiative seems to have fallen by the wayside. "If we are going to have a weak enforcement, we ought to have a stronger standard," Jernigan told The Fix. The National Research Council, the Institute of Medicine and 25 state attorneys across the nation are among those who have called for the industry to restrict alcohol advertising to programming when below 15% of the audience is underage. Just three guilty brands—Bud light, Coors Light, and Miller Light—placed half of all the ads accused of targeting minors across the country.

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Jeff Forester is a writer in Minnesota. His book, Forest for the Trees: How Humans Shaped the North Woods, an ecological history of his state's famed Boundary Waters, came out in paperback in 2009. Jeff is the Executive Director of MN Lakes and Rivers Advocates MLR and you can follow him on Twitter.