Underage drinkers are more likely to choose alcohol brands that sponsor sports, music, and entertainment events, a new study shows.
The findings show that sponsorship is “a significant strategy of alcohol marketers that generates brand capital through positive associations with integral aspects of culture and lifestyle,” the authors write.
Problems of underage alcohol use, “cannot be understood and addressed adequately without taking into account and . . . monitoring and measuring the impact of this highly prevalent form of alcohol marketing.”
For the study published in the journal Addiction, researchers examined sponsorships of organizations and events in the United States from 2010 to 2013 by the top 75 brands of alcohol consumed by underage drinkers. The team identified 945 sponsorships during the study period. Michael Siegel, professor of community health sciences at Boston University School of Public Health, led the project.
The top categories of sponsorship were sports (269), arts and entertainment (167), and music (166). Overall, beer brands utilized the most sponsorships (417), followed by liquor brands, flavored alcoholic beverages, and wine.
Brands popular with young drinkers, such as Miller Lite, Miller Beers, and Jack Daniel’s, had high numbers of sponsorships, compared to less popular brands.
Bud Light and the NFL
In a logistic regression analysis, the most popular brands—those with a consumption prevalence of 5 percent or greater—were approximately 10 times more likely to utilize sponsorships than less popular brands.
The average number of sponsorships for the most popular brands was 24, compared to 12 for the less popular brands. There were some exceptions to the pattern: Three brands—Twisted Tea, Pinnacle, and Pabst Blue Ribbon—engaged in many sponsorships (a combined total of 132), despite being less popular brands among youth drinkers.
Overall, there was a large difference in the number of sponsorships by the top 10 brands for youth consumption prevalence, compared to the bottom 10 brands. The top 10 brands accounted for 420 sponsorships, compared to 87 for the bottom brands.
The findings suggest that alcohol companies “build brand capital” by associating their labels “with aspects of American life for which audiences already have positive affect. For example, Bud Light builds on Americans’ love of football by being practically ubiquitous through its sponsorship of the National Football League.”
Teen drinking behavior
Some brand sponsorships appeal to specific “target audience” groups, the authors say. For example, Absolut vodka has used brand sponsorship to identify itself with the LGBT community, sponsoring events such as the Provincetown Carnival Week, RuPaul’s Drag Race, and gay pride festivals in Nashville, Indianapolis, and other cities.
The authors couldn’t conclude that sponsorship is “causally connected” to underage drinking, in part because of the possibility that youth are merely mimicking adult drinking patterns.
Regardless, “it is difficult to imagine that with 166 music sponsorships—58 of them among the top 10 youth alcohol brands—these brands are not reaching youth.”
Such marketing is of concern and worthy of further study, they write.
“Our findings have important research, practice, and policy implications,” the authors write.
“First, they suggest that more research is needed to examine the potential impact of alcohol sponsorship on youth alcohol-related attitudes and drinking behavior. Secondly, they suggest that, as has been the case with tobacco, public health campaigns may be needed to discourage organizations from accepting alcohol industry sponsorship.”
Also, as with tobacco, the study points to “a potential need for legislation limiting alcohol brand sponsorship.”
Source: Boston University