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Targeting Young African-Americans for Alcohol Ads

It seems that universities exist to do studies on various topics and this one out of Johns Hopkins University here in Maryland set out with an interesting topic. The main goal was “(1) analyze alcohol advertising exposure by type and brand among African-American youth ages 12–20 in comparison to all youth ages 12–20.” And what were the results?

The Youth Risk Behavior Survey (YRBS) determined that one in three African-American high school students in the United States are current drinkers and about 40 percent of those drinkers binge now and again. Unfortunately the report breaks down in that it did not present the statistics on all high school students or on Caucasian high school students or any other group, for that matter.

The report references a number of other studies that have shown that youth exposure to alcohol marketing leads to underage drinking, and to excessive consumption among people who are already drinking a small amount.

In regards to advertising, the report showed that the major television stations: ABC, CBS, NBC and FOX have minimized the number of alcohol commercials that are allowed. Until recently only beer or wine could be shown, not distilled spirits. Their affiliates, however, had more latitude. Several stations such as MTV, Disney, and Nickelodeon have no alcoholic beverages advertised at all.

The main location referenced for alcohol advertising was actually rap and hip/hop music lyrics. Of course, we must note here that at the best this is free advertising, as it often just lists how the artists are using and abusing the alcohol, often not giving specific names. 64 percent of the most popular rap songs contained references to drinking. The report commented that, “These messages may have a different impact on African-American youth in particular, who may listen closely to the lyrics and be more inclined than white adolescents to perceive them as informative about life.” While some might find this comment condescending and others might find it too true, it is important to note that the lyrics do present a pattern of life which could be understood as being somewhat normal. In the same way, we might say that listening to country music could convince listeners that drinking alcohol is a very normal and expected part of life.

The report also stated that there are more billboards with alcohol ads in the predominantly African-American neighborhoods than in other locations as well.

The major point is that advertising encourages use, and use encourages problems.


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