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The Marketing of Alcohol and Addiction

Businesses advertise all over the place, and nowhere is that more true than with the business of selling alcohol. From wall hangings in bars to multimillion-dollar adverts during the Super Bowl, beer companies know how to draw our attention, and they’re able to persuade us to spend millions on their products.

Of course, for many, alcohol is not a problem, so we treat it like any other advert. We might be persuaded to buy a different brand because of a clever advert (perhaps involving toads or frogs), but it doesn’t necessarily make us into addicts.

What Makes Alcohol Advertising Successful

However, for some, alcohol is a serious problem, and they find it hard to give up. Advertising makes it worse, as it’s reminding people of what they “need.” But why is alcohol advertising so successful?

The aim of a marketing department is to create demand and enhance the standing of a product compared to its rivals. This means that adverts need to be focused toward its target audience who are likely to be reading the advert. With a combined budget of $2 billion a year to spend on advertising and a total of $400 billion of economic activity, the stakes are huge.


That means, whoever manages to catch the eye of the public in terms of advertising can make a fortune.

The companies do have limitations on where they can advertise; they can only advertise in places where the majority (over 70 percent) of those who are likely to view the adverts are over the legal drinking age. In addition, they cannot promote the intoxicating effects of alcohol or use child-focused characters (e.g., cartoon characters or people who are likely to be followed by minors) to promote their brews.

However, this doesn’t stop them from advertising in most places.

Beer is big business in sport. Budweiser, for example, boasts it is the “Official Beer Partner” to the NBA and MLS. It also sponsors NASCAR drivers and even organizes music festivals. All of these are areas where Budweiser and associated Anheuser-Bosch brands are sold exclusively.

Naturally, this guarantees advertising. It’s all over the stadiums, and it even appears on the news; when the day’s action is replayed, fans are guaranteed to see siding on the game reminding them of who sponsors their teams and leagues.

Sponsoring a league is something only the really big boys can do. Anheuser-Bosch has revenues of around $15 billion, and that’s a fraction of the total value of the market.

Youth Exposure to Ads

The biggest problem is youth exposure to the ads. When kids see their favorite stars on screen along with copious amounts of alcohol advertising, they become used to the idea of alcohol being the norm. While it’s likely that they’ll try it anyway, it is true that those exposed to alcohol advertising from an early age are more likely to suffer from alcoholism.

That poses a conundrum for parents: How can they stop their kids from viewing alcohol advertising?

“Because alcohol advertising is so huge and so intrinsically related to the activities many of us like doing or watching, it is very powerful.”Unfortunately in reality, they can’t. Short of living a life devoid of TV, vehicles, sport, and other everyday distractions, it’s virtually impossible to not be exposed to some advertising. The trick, therefore, is to reduce their kids’ exposure.

Because alcohol advertising is so huge and so intrinsically related to the activities many of us like doing or watching, it is very powerful. The same is true around the world. In the UK, the English Premier League used to be sponsored by Carling (a beer). Many individual sports clubs are also sponsored by alcohol producing companies.

However, alcohol advertising extends beyond simple sponsorship of sports. Sponsorship of community projects, museums, and other things mean that it’s always in people’s minds. And, of course, this means addiction. Oddly enough, though, it’s hard to find any indication that a beer or company has sponsored an alcohol addiction center.

Oddly enough, some countries do not allow certain forms of alcohol advertising, stating that it’s detrimental to everyone’s health and contradictory to allow such an unhealthy product to dominate advertising in an essentially healthy activity. France, Switzerland, and Russia are good examples of this practice.

The question is this: Should we ban alcohol advertising for popular activities? After all, alcohol abuse and addiction costs around $185 billion a year, according to the National Institute on Drug Abuse. This is a phenomenal amount, and as higher advertising exposure is linked to higher rates of addiction, it might make sense to reduce the amount of advertising available.

For help finding treatment for alcohol addiction, whether it’s for you, your spouse or your teen, you can find the best programs by calling a professional helpline, such as our toll-free one at .