The results are consistent with theories of cumulative effects of media exposure. Youth reporting greater amounts of exposure to alcohol advertising over the long term drank more than youth who saw fewer ads. Alcohol consumption was less sensitive to short-term differences in alcohol advertising exposure than to the long-term effects of exposure.
Given that there was an impact on drinking using an objective measure of advertising expenditures, the results are inconsistent with the hypothesis that a correlation between advertising exposure and drinking could be caused entirely by selective attention on the part of drinkers. The results also contradict claims that advertising is unrelated to youth drinking amounts: that advertising at best causes brand switching, only affects those older than the legal drinking age, or is effectively countered by current educational efforts. Alcohol advertising was a contributing factor to youth drinking quantities over time.
The strength of the study was the relatively large national sample, the use of an objective measure of advertising expenditures to complement the subjective measure of advertising exposure, and the matching of expenditure data with individual behavior. The study was limited by the industry data used to measure advertising exposure, which largely reflects the most expensive medium for advertising—television. During this period, data on outdoor advertising was spotty and may have been incomplete in some markets. It is also possible that using a measure of likely advertising exposures (such as gross rating points) would increase effects. There may also be variation in the national advertising expenditures in markets, through differences in cable systems and presence of national stations or programming, that were not measured. Note, too, that other forms of marketing were not included here (such as product placements in programming, promotions, sports sponsorships, and stadium advertising) that could affect youth drinking. Future research could examine the impact of different forms of advertising and the consumption of various alcoholic products. Other limitations of the study were the sample attrition and the fact that those who drank more at baseline were more likely to drop out of the study. Future research should also control for the effects of parent and peer influences on drinking. Finally, the study does not explain the process by which advertising affects youth.
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Leslie B. Snyder, PhD; Frances Fleming Milici, PhD; Michael Slater, PhD; Helen Sun, MA; Yuliya Strizhakova, PhD
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