Feb 23, 2018 | Updated: 09:54 AM EDT

Alcohol Ads Increased 400% Last 40 Years, But Americans Aren’t Drinking More

Mar 27, 2015 04:23 PM EDT

Although governments have long thought that bans on alcohol advertising keep populations sober and productive, a new study has found that these types of policies have negligible effects.

In research released by the University of Texas at Austin, it was found that alcohol advertising spending in the U.S. has gone up exponentially since 1971, with an increase of more than 400 percent. Meanwhile, per capita consumption has remained relatively the same.

While little-to-no relationship was found between alcohol sales and advertising, there was evidence of the notion that advertising does influence consumer brand preference and loyalty.

"Over this time period, beer sales have exhibited a downward trend since the early 1990s, while wine and liquor have increased their share of total alcohol sales. This is despite large increases in advertising expenditures across all three categories of alcohol," the study states.

The study further concludes that the changes exhibited in alcohol consumption over the last 40 years are due not to an increase in alcohol advertising, but rather to changes in demography, taxation and income levels.

A handful of cities in the U.S. have recently passed bans on alcohol advertising. Philadelphia, for example, now prohibits alcohol advertising on municipal property, and San Francisco prohibits alcohol advertising on public transportation. Los Angeles also recently banned alcohol advertising from public transit. The reason is to avoid underage exposure to alcohol ads. For example, a 2008 study of alcohol advertising on Boston's public transit found that the ads were seen 1.2 million times per day and that more than half of public school students saw them.

In addition to these restrictions, most alcohol marketers have self-imposed restrictions on advertising in order to promote responsible consumption. The Beer Institute, for example, has instituted its own rules and guidelines for what can be advertised and what can't be. These suggest that beer ads should avoid depicting people actually drinking on camera, much less showing scenes of people binge drinking.  

The research suggests that a better alternative to imposing restrictions on alcohol advertising is to spend more time and resources on informing the public on the dangers of excessive alcohol consumption.

"Instead, a more logical alternative would be to communicate as much information as possible to the public about the subject and encourage all viewpoints so our society makes an autonomous, rational choice regarding alcohol consumption," said the study's lead author, Professor Gary Wilcox of the Stan Richards School of Advertising and Public Relations. 

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