“It may not be in marketers’ best interest for children to become media literate, but it is society’s responsibility to ensure that they do. We can and should level the playing field on which alcohol marketing is played.”
– Professor John Ford, Old Dominion University
Smiling, laughing, beautiful people catch our eye on the television, beam down at us from billboards, and pop out of magazine pages. A common theme among the smiling, laughing, and beautiful people: they’re sipping on alcohol.
Maybe if we drink an alcoholic beverage, we can be just like the people in the ads. NOT! However, that is what the marketers want us to believe.
75% of alcohol ads promote drinking, and recently the number shown during family or children’s programming has increased. Between 2001 and 2003, alcohol ads shown during programs with a 30% viewing audience of the 12-20 age group has increased by 50% (Austin, 2006).
The media wants us to believe alcohol is fun, free of consequences, and will make us beautiful and happy. According to medialit.org, there are seven common myths advertisers want us to believe about alcohol.
- Drinking is a risk-free activity.
- You can’t survive without drinking.
- Problem drinking behaviors are normal.
- Alcohol can transform you.
- Sports and alcohol go together.
- If these products were truly dangerous, the media would tell us.
- Alcohol beverage companies promote moderate drinking.
With myths like these running around, it is easy to imagine why children, young adults, and adults alike would turn to alcohol. However, research has shown media literacy can counteract the effects of alcohol advertisements.
A study performed by Austin and Jones has shown that general and alcohol specific media literacy training for third graders does change childrens’ perceptions of alcohol advertisements, use, expectations, and behavior.
The researchers showed the third graders a video about televisions advertisements and alcohol ads, followed by a discussion of what they had seen. Pre and post-test results supported the helpful effect of media literacy. Furthermore, a delayed test was given that further supported the effects.
Children had an increased understanding of advertisement’s intent, saw the characters has less similar to them and less desirable, had a decreased expectation of positive consequences from alcohol, had a decreased likelihood to choose an alcohol beverage, and changed their views of social norms regarding alcohol (Austin & Jones, 1997).
Alcohol has harmful and potentially fatal consequences if used incorrectly. It is important to use the tools at hand to educate and inform the public about the true face of alcohol. A helpful tool can be media literacy.
For classroom ideas and more information, see here.
Austin, E. (2006). Why advertisers and researchers should focus on media literacy to respond to the effects of alcohol advertising on youth. International Journal of Advertising, 25(4), 541-544. Retrieved from Communication & Mass Media Complete database.
Austin, E., & Johnson, K. (1997). Effects of general and alcohol-specific media literacy training on children’s decision making.. Journal of Health Communication, 2(1), 17. Retrieved from Communication & Mass Media Complete database.