Alcohol Target Market Emphasis Vs. The Right to Advertise

Alcohol. It’s supposed to be meant for adults over the age of 21, but whom is it targeted towards in advertisement? Who sees the numerous advertisements splattered across billboards, filled in magazines, or braodcasted over televisions stations? This is the controversial question many people in society are trying to answer. This subject not only stirs up confrontation on the right to advertise but on the ethical approaches behind this type of advertising as well. The debate between alcohol and advertising has been going on for several decades. Supporters for alcohol advertising, mainly the alcohol industry, say that is alcohol is a legal product. Therefore, it is legal to advertise for it. While non-supporters of alcohol advertising emphasize that the majority of these advertisements are often seen by the youth of America and even directly targeted towards them. This controversial and ethical question on the right to advertise versus good taste and target market emphasis is a question that will surely be fought over for many more years.
Advertising, whether print or broadcast, is a part of everyday life. It is meant to influence the public to buy specifically advertised products that will enhance, benefit, or are simply required to fulfill life. The alcohol industry, in particular, spends a considerable amount of revenue each year on advertisement, especially beer commercials, to reach potential consumers. The alcohol beverage industry is a major advertiser, with expenditures of almost 2 billion per year, with beer the most heavily advertised alcoholic product, and almost three-fourths of the spending spent on television advertising (Atkin, 1993). The main problem with this is that children spend an average of 4 hours a day watching television, the favored medium for beer advertisement (Atkin, 1993). Many of these commercials seem to be targeted towards the younger crowd, with a variety of benefits linked to the alcohol beverage: great flavor, social development, refreshing, relaxing, femininity, masculinity, romance, adventure, maturity, and sophistication. In addition, many contemporary advertisements use animals as an icon for the product. The most famous example of this is the advertisement for Budweiser beer using the comically cute cartoon character Budweiser frogs. Although this may not be specifically geared towards children, many children easily recognize the frogs and relate them to beer. These issues are prevalent in our society today because the initial use of alcohol occurs at such an early age. Also, many people believe alcohol to be the starter drug that can lead to more serious drugs such as marijuana, cocaine, crack, and heroin. Concerns of addictions and driving while intoxicated are also issues that people who support the ban on alcohol advertising also bring up.
On the other side, the alcohol industry uses the defense that alcohol is a legal product, therefore it is legal to advertise for it. They claim their advertisements target only those of legal age, and they only wish to influence their market share. Instead of increasing total consumption, the objective of advertisers is to increase brand loyalty and to encourage to switch to their brand. Thus, effective advertisers gain market share at the expense of others, who lose market share. They do no try to increase the total market for their product. An example can explain why. For example, the total retail value of beer produced annually in the United States is about $50 billion (Crawford, 1998). If a producer’s advertising campaign increases its market share by one percent, its sales would increase by $500 million. However, if the total market for beer increased by one percent, a brand with a 10% share of the market would only experience a sales increase of $50 million. Advertiser of alcohol blame the considerable amount of time spent watching television by youths also to be a factor in the amount of liquor ads seen by youths. Some also claim that alcohol advertising itself is not the main influence in the initiation of drinking, but rather the social environment is likely to create consumption. Since children often learn by role models and peers, parents and friends play a bigger role in whether a child chooses to drink. In order to get a better overview of this issue, the history of alcohol advertising needs to be examined. In 1935, the Federal Alcohol Administration gave