STUDY: Alcohol Advertising Disproportionately Targets Black Youth

A new study from the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health points out that — despite the fact that African-American youth drink less alcohol than youths from other racial groups — African-Americans between the ages of 12 and 20 are disproportionately exposed to greater amounts of alcohol advertising. The study’s authors note that black youth tend to consume more media, which contributes to their increased exposure, but research also suggests that alcohol advertising is specifically targeted at African-American teens.

The study notes that there are other factors — particularly religious commitment, ethnic identity, and socioeconomic status — that impact youths’ decision about whether or not to drink alcohol, and marketing campaigns represent just one influencer among many. However, the study’s authors do believe their findings indicate alcohol advertisers have a responsibility to exercise “restraint” in their advertising campaigns now that they know African-American teens may be more susceptible to their marketing materials:

Given higher levels of media usage among African-Americans, alcohol marketers have an obligation to avoid exposure to an at-risk population. In each advertising medium, a small number of brands deliver significantly more advertising exposure to AfricanAmerican youth than to youth in general, sometimes two to four times as much. Specific publications, radio formats, and television channels also expose African-American youth to more alcohol advertising than youth in general, and in some cases, to more alcohol advertising than African-American adults. That certain brands, channels, and formats expose African-American youth to alcohol at a rate double or more than that of all youth suggests that particular attention and action are needed from these advertisers and media.

Researchers reported that although alcohol advertising in magazines declined by nearly 20 percent overall between 2003 and 2008, black youth saw 32 percent more ads for alcohol in magazines than the general American youth population did in 2009. And they were 92 percent more likely to see ads hawking “alcopops” — sweetened alcoholic beverages that alcohol industry watchdogs say are specifically marketed to appeal more to youth. Researchers found this pattern held true for other types of media marketing as well, with African-American youth 17 percent more likely to see alcohol ads on television and 32 percent more likely to hear radio ads for hard liquor.


Despite the correlations that the study draws, it does not claim that advertisers themselves are strategically targeting black youth. “I can’t call it targeting because targeting implies intent and I can’t prove intent,” the study’s author, David Jernigan, told Fair Warning. However, Jernigan is skeptical of alcohol advertisers’ claims that they have no control over whether teens end up seeing marketing materials that are primarily intended for adult eyes. “The industry knows quite precisely what they are doing,” Jernigan said.