Center on Alcohol Marketing and Youth: Its Objectives and Methods

by David J. Hanson, Ph.D.

The Center on Alcohol Marketing and Youth (CAMY) was established and its activities funded by the Pew trusts and the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, a ten billion (not million) dollar ($10,000,000,000.00) organization. The stated mission of CAMY is to monitor "the marketing practices of the alcohol industry to focus attention and action on industry practices that jeopardize the health and safety of America's youth." It seeks to create "public outrage" against alcohol advertising to achieve its objective. 1

CAMY begins with an assumption which it then sets out to prove. In doing so it is clearly an activist group rather than an objective scientific organization seeking to learn the truth. Judging from CAMY's statements and activities, it's doubtful if the Center would ever to find any alcohol advertising or any marketing practice to be acceptable. This may be an example of the Burger King phenomenon: Pew and Johnson pay for the research and "have it their way."

CAMY Rejects Scientific Procedure

The Center on Alcohol Marketing and Youth distributes its reports without peer review, contrary to the way real science operates. In peer review, an editor or other neutral person submits the report to a number of peer experts in the subject of the research. These authorities read the report to determine if it meets the minimum standards for research. By examining the adequacy of the research methods, the statistical analyses performed, the logic of the analysis, and other essential criteria, approval by peer experts reduces the chances that the findings are erroneous.

The Center on Alcohol Marketing and Youth is "a new anti-alcohol group that has launched a "crusade" against alcohol advertising.

The Wall Street Journal. 27

Peer review is fundamental to science. Without it, there is absolutely no reason to have any confidence in the findings of a report. Peer review is the major mechanism science uses to maintain quality control. It's a fundamental defense against incompetence, quackery, pseudo-science, and downright dishonesty.

Without peer review, an advocacy group report full of erroneous and misleading statistics can be passed off to the public as a scientific report. That's exactly what the Center on Alcohol Marketing and Youth does.

Alcohol Advertising in Youth-Oriented Magazines

Out of Control: Alcohol Advertising Taking Aim at America's Youth - A Report on Alcohol Advertising in Magazines, by the Center on Alcohol Marketing and Youth, suggests the CAMY itself may be out of control.

CAMY asserts that a large proportion of alcohol ads appear in "youth-oriented" magazines. Presumably a youth-oriented magazine would be one directed primarily to youthful readers. At a minimum, it would appear that a majority of the readers of a youth-oriented magazine would have to be youths. Such a magazine would have at least 51% youth readers, but perhaps it should be two-thirds, three-fourths, or some higher proportion to be considered youth-oriented.

Not according to the Center on Alcohol Marketing and Youth. If it defined "youth-oriented magazine" as generally understood by most people, it wouldn't have sensationalist, headline-grabbing statistics to report. Instead CAMY defines a youth-oriented magazine as one whose youthful readership is over 15.8%! That's right, anything over a mere 15.8%.

Not a single so called youth-oriented magazine examined by CAMY has a majority of youth readers. Nor does a single one have even close to a majority of youth readers. 2

CAMY: Alcohol Industry “Targets” Underage Youths

CAMY repeatedly asserts that alcohol producers “target” underage persons with their advertising in magazines and other media. CAMY’s logic and study method actually defines targeting as advertising in any magazine or other outlet with an adolescent exposure of over 15.8%.

Enter the Statistical Assessment Service (STATS) at George Mason University, an independent organization that examines science issues in the news. STATS explains that CAMY’s logic is that “a magazine that appeals to more youth than the population average is one that alcohol companies would avoid if they weren’t “targeting” youth.”

That logic requires some questionable assumptions and leaps of faith. And, of course, it’s impossible to direct ads to those age 21-30 without younger readers also seeing the ads. An alternative approach is to examine empirically the factors that alcohol companies use in selecting magazines for ad placements.

This has been done by Dr. Jon Nelson, Emeritus Professor of Economics at Pennsylvania State University and the findings published in Contemporary Economic Policy. Prof. Nelson identified factors that might affect advertising decisions, such as the cost of the ads, the circulation of the magazine, the proportion of readers under the age of 21, sales outlets, the subject matter of the magazine, and demographics of the readership such as race and income.

STATS points out that, according to Dr. Nelsons research, “the proportion of young readers among the readership did not make much difference. The influential factors were the size of the audience (not just how many people bought the magazine, but how many actually read it), and how much an ad costs per 1,000 copies in circulation.” 3

In short, there is no evidence that alcohol ads target underage persons.

Alcohol Advertising on Radio

CAMY's report, Radio Daze: Alcohol Ads Tune In Underage Youth, asserts that those aged 12 to 20 hear more alcohol beverage ads than do those age 21 and older. However, an analysis has revealed that CAMY's own data suggest that the advocacy group has overstated the exposure of young people to alcohol ads on radio by a whopping five hundred percent (500%). 4

In reality, it appears that, at most, 17 percent of alcohol beverage ads on radio are heard by those under age 12-20.

The figures below, derived from CAMY's Table 2, demonstrate that the proportion of alcohol beverage ads heard by adults age 21 or older was 83% for each of the ad categories of beer and ale, distilled spirits, and low-alcohol refreshers; it was 96% for wine. The average, of course, is over 83%.

Alcohol Beverage Ads Heard on Radio
Ad Category Age 12-20 Impressions Age 21+ Impressions Total Impressions Percent Age 21+ Impressions
Beer and Ale 969,431,504 4,836,156,485 5,805,587,989 83%
Distilled Spirits 201,889,789 953,196,502 1,155,086,291 83%
Low-Alcohol Refreshers 111,399,901 539,949,757 651,349,658 83%
Wine 27,759,846 612,073,009 639,832,855 96%

This CAMY report was issues on April 2. It might have been more appropriate to have issued it a day earlier... on April Fools Day.

Alcohol Advertising on Television

CAMY's report, Television: Alcohol's Vast Adland, will disturb anyone who valuesintellectual honesty. This political advocacy document transforms a speculative suggestion by the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) into an assertion that "research clearly indicates" that alcohol ads lead young people to drink. In reality, neither the scientific evidence nor the FCC statement indicates any such thing.

CAMY then reports some irrelevant studies in a futile attempt to prove that alcohol ads make teenagers drink. However, CAMY's evidence is so very weak that even a student in an introductory research methods course should be able to see through this attempted deception.

Worse yet,

The rest of CAMY's evidence is even lamer: kids' familiarity with the Budweiser frogs, surveys in which people express the opinion that ads make drinking more appealing, and a statement by the National Association of Broadcasters that "radio and television audiences, particularly kids" like "clever jingles, flashy lights, fast talking, and quick pacing." The pathetic thing is that you have to assume CAMY is making the strongest case it can. 5

The scientific evidence simply doesn't support CAMY's agenda. That's why it resorts to anecdotes, distortions and even misrepresentations in order to try to convince people.

Alcohol Advertising on the Internet

In Clicking with Kids: Alcohol Marketing and Youth on the Internet, CAMY attempts to create public outrage. To do so, it by plays outrageously fast and loose with the facts.

  • CAMY is distressed that citizens under the age of 21 can visit web sites sponsored by alcohol beverage companies. It ignores the fact that people of any age can visit grocery stores that, in most states, sell beer and wine.
  • CAMY implies that the existence of video games on some alcohol sites means that they are intended to lure underage visitors. It ignores the fact that the average age of those who play video games is 29. 6
  • CAMY protests that there is no adult supervision of those visiting alcohol web sites. It ignores the fact that there is no adult supervision of any sites on the internet other than that provided by parents and guardians.
  • CAMY charges that the web sites are "cyber playgrounds" for underage people. It ignores that fact that those under the age of 21 are not disproportionately visitors to the sites.
  • CAMY suggests that the sites violate the alcohol industries’ own advertising and marketing standards. It ignores the well-known fact that research by the Federal Trade Commission leads it to conclude that the content of the sites is directed to adults, not underage persons.
  • CAMY implies that minors are enticed and victimized by the sites. It ignores the fact that the only people under the age of 21 who can visit the sites are those who misrepresent their age -- that is, these so-called victims have to be liars.
  • CAMY complains about underage visitors being "immersed in beer and liquor marketing." It ignores that fact that scientific research concludes that alcohol ads don't cause non-drinkers to become drinkers.
  • CAMY implies that the FCC disapproves of such web sites as a danger to young people. It again ignores the act that the Federal Trade Commission concludes shat the content of the alcohol sites is directed to adults, not underage persons.
  • CAMY calls for a federal threat of censorship. It ignores the fact that the United States Constitution protects the free speech rights of those who post web sites.

And, unfortunately, the list goes on.

How to Lie with Statistics

Because those who oppose alcohol advertising are not supported by the scientific evidence, they are forced to rely on emotional appeals, anecdotal assertions, impressions, and meaningful correlations that are irrelevant but tend to deceive the public.

It's a fact that as the consumption of ice cream goes up, the number of people who drown also goes up. And when the consumption of ice cream goes down, the number of people who drown goes down too. So eating ice cream leads to drowning, right? No! The warmer the weather, the more ice cream people eat and the more people swim and end up drowning. Similarly, sightings of storks in England have been associated with increases in the birth rate. But does that mean that storks either cause or deliver babies?

"CAMY's calculations dissolve into banality upon close inspection" and its report "will outrage anyone who values intellectual honesty."

Jacob Sullum, Senior Editor of Reason magazine. 31

The Center on Alcohol Marketing and Youth asserts that "Children who begin drinking before the age of 15 are four times more likely to develop alcohol dependence than those who wait until the age of 21." 7

The problem is that CAMY apparently wants us to believe that drinking at an early age causes later alcohol problems. Research strongly suggests that early onset of drinking may result from pre-existing emotional, behavioral, medical or other problems. For example, researchers have found that by monitoring young children’s behavior they can predict subsequent alcohol problems long before they take their first drink. 8

People who are "sensation-seekers" appear to be more likely than others to drink, smoke, do illegal drugs and engage in sex at an early age. As adults they appear to be more likely to gamble heavily, more often exceed the speed limit, and change jobs frequently. But drinking at an early age doesn't cause them to gamble heavily as adults. And preventing them from drinking won't stop them from gambling later. 9

There is absolutely no evidence that preventing young people from drinking would have any effect on what they do later in life. There are plenty of good reasons for young people not to drink, but this isn't one of them. And to suggest otherwise is to lie with statistics.

CAMY Issues False “Binge Drinking” Assertion but Never Retracts

The Center on Alcohol Marketing and Youth released a report asserting that the proportion of young women (is calls them “girls”) who are so-called binge drinkers (i.e., they sometimes consume four or more drinks on an occasion) is increasing.

In reality, the proportion of young women who ”binge drink” is actually decreasing. That’s according to the federal government’s Monitoring the Future nation-wide surveys.

CAMY has never issued a retraction. 10

CAMY Receives Award for “Worst Press Release of the Year”

The Statistical Assessment Service (STATS) at George Mason University was so impressed with the contorted spin that CAMY gave in the following press release that it awarded it the prize for “Worst Press Release of the Year.”:

Center on Alcohol Marketing and Youth Statement Regarding Findings of the Latest Monitoring the Future Survey Data on Youth Drug Use
Statement attributable to David H. Jernigan, PhD, Executive Director,
Center on Alcohol Marketing and Youth at Georgetown University

“Three years ago, the Institute of Medicine found that from 1993 to 2002 we had not made much progress in reducing underage drinking. The good news today from Monitoring the Future is that between 2001 and 2006, we have made progress and it seems to be holding. At the same time there are storm clouds on the horizon. Excessive drinking by youth remains unacceptably high. In 2006, one in nine eight graders, one in five tenth graders and more than one in four twelfth graders reported binge drinking in the past two weeks. Thirty percent of high school seniors were drunk in the past month. Cleary, we cannot settle for the progress we have made and need to do more. The 41% increase in youth exposure to alcohol advertising on television between 2001 and 2005 is troubling. The more ads kids see, the more likely they are to drink and drink more. All of us, including alcohol advertisers, need to do more to protect our youth.”

STATS summarizes the illogical spin:

Underage drinking declined, significantly, during a time when kids experienced a massive increase in exposure to alcohol advertising; but “the more ads kids see, the more likely they are to drink," (sic); therefore, alcohol advertisers “need to do more to protect our youth.” 11 (emphasis in original)

Frogs and Former Presidents

Much has been made by many anti-alcohol activists of the fact that young people often have greater recognition of some alcohol brand labels and promotional characters than of former U.S. presidents. 12 These reports make good headlines but what does it all mean? Probably nothing because there is absolutely no evidence that such recognition leads to experimentation, consumption, or abuse of alcohol. Sometimes it even appears to be related to less drinking later. 13

Similarly, most adults are probably much better at identifying photos of popular entertainers than of William Henry Harrison, Franklin Pierce, Chester Arthur, John Tyler, or other former presidents of the U.S. But that doesn't mean they've been seeing too many alcohol beverage commercials.

The Impact of Alcohol Advertising

The definitive review of scientific research from around the world has found that advertising has virtually no influence on consumption and no impact on either experimentation with alcohol or its abuse. 14 This is consistent with other reviews of the research literature. 15

A study by the Federal Trade Commission found that there is "no reliable basis to conclude that alcohol advertising significantly affects consumption, let alone abuse." 16

A United States Senate subcommittee reported in the Congressional Record that it could not find evidence to conclude that advertising influences non-drinkers to begin drinking or to increase consumption. 17

The United States Department of Health and Human Services in a report to Congress concluded that there is no significant relationship between alcohol advertising and consumption. Therefore, it did not recommend banning or imposing additional restrictions on alcohol advertising. 18

The founding Director of the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism has pointed out that "There is not a single study - not one study in the United States or internationally - that credibly connects advertising with an increase in alcohol use or abuse." 19

There is clear consensus in the scientific community that alcohol advertising does not lead non-drinkers to begin drinking, does not increase the consumption of alcohol, and does not lead to alcohol abuse.

What Advertising Does

If advertising doesn't increase consumption, why bother to advertise? The answer is simple: to increase market share.

Alcohol is what economists call a "mature" product category in that consumers are already aware of the product and its basic characteristics. Therefore, overall consumption is not effected by advertising specific brands. 20

Instead of increasing total consumption, the objective of advertisers is to encourage consumers to switch their brand and create brand loyalty. Thus, effective advertisers gain market share at the expense of others, who lose market share. They do not try to increase the total market for the product. An example can illustrate why they don't.

Best Bet: Increase Market Share 21
Scenario I: Increase in Total Market
Total beer market sales


Brand X's 10% share of market


Total market grows by one percent to...


Brand X's 10% share is now...


Scenario II: Increase in Market Share

Total beer market remains stable


Brand X's 10% market share increases one percent


Brand X's 10% share is now...


Assume that the total retail value of beer produced annually in the is $50 billion. If a producer's advertising campaign increases its 10% market share by one percent, its sales would increase by $500 million. However, if the total market for beer increased by one percent, a brand the brand with a 10% market share would only experience a sales increase of $50 million.

Clearly, a producer has a great incentive to increase market share, but little incentive (and no ability) to increase the total market. For this reason, advertisers focus their efforts on established consumers. They seek to strengthen the loyalty of their own customers and induce other customers to try their brand.

Normalizing Alcohol

A common anti-alcohol argument against alcohol beverage advertising is that it "normalizes" drinking in the minds of young people. To the extent that this is true, the ads may be performing a positive role in society.

The commonplace nature of alcohol ads helps beverage alcohol be viewed as another mundane consumer product, right alongside aspirin, cookies, and alkaline batteries. This is a constructive way for young people to view alcohol beverages.

On the other hand, if we treat beverage alcohol as a dangerous substance to be avoided and not even advertised, we inadvertently raise it up from the ordinary into the realm of the mysterious, highly desirable, tantalizing, must-have Big Deal. In so doing, we slip into the familiar, failed pattern of demonizing the substance of alcohol and making it more desirable to underage persons.

We should help young people regard the substance of alcohol as neutral --- neither inherently good nor inherently bad. What matters is how it is used, and we must convey by word and example that the abuse of alcohol is never humorous, acceptable, or excusable. And its abuse is not a sign of adulthood or maturity.

Do alcohol ads portray the products being enjoyed in the most appealing settings and by the most attractive people? Of course they often do --- no less than do ads for cars, instant coffee and anti-fungal sprays. That normalcy of alcohol ads helps demystify the product --- which is a good place to begin encouraging realistic, moderate, and responsible attitudes about it.

Responsible attitudes toward alcohol are based on the understanding that such beverages are yet another part of life over which individuals have control, like exercise, personal hygiene, or diet.

If alcohol beverages are to be used moderately by those adults who choose to consume them, then it is important that these beverages not be stigmatized, compared to illegal drugs, and associated with abuse. They aren't dangerous poisons to be hidden from sight and become a subject of mystery and perhaps fascinating appeal. But that would be the message if alcohol ads are banned or kept from the view of young people.

The United States Constitution and Alcohol Advertising

Efforts to prevent persons under the age of 21 from seeing alcohol beverage advertisements can't be used as an excuse to deny Constitutionally-guaranteed First Amendment rights, according to the Supreme Court of the United States. 22 The Center on Alcohol Marketing and Youth apparently wants to restrict alcohol advertising to "the level of the sandbox," as the Supreme Court phrased it over twenty years ago, when it held this to be unconstitutional. 23

Attacks on Advertising Counterproductive?

The attacks on alcohol advertising by the Center on Alcohol Marketing and Youth may actually increase drinking among young people. The Commissioner of the Federal Trade Commission has pointed out that much alcohol advertising is undertaken to distinguish one brand from another. It attempts to convince consumers that rival products are poor substitutes for the advertised brand. The Commissioner explains that to the extent that firms in a market can successfully differentiate their products, price competition between rival firms may actually decrease, allowing each brand to raise its prices. Although each firm may actually sell less than if no firms had advertised, the ability to raise prices makes this strategy profitable. Thus, an increase in brand advertising could actually result in lower overall consumption, especially by underage consumers who might be sensitive to price increases. 24

Parents are Highly Influential... Alcohol Ads Are Not

The Center on Alcohol Marketing and Youth uses bright graphics, colorful charts, and assertive language in attempting to persuade. But the scientific fact is that alcohol commercials do not cause young people to drink. The greatest influence of their beliefs, attitudes and behaviors is actually from their parents.

Parents are much more influential than they generally realize. For example, among six things that might affect their decisions about drinking, 66% of American youth aged 12 to 17 identified their parents as a leading influence:

  • Parents (66%)
  • Best friends (26%)
  • Teachers (12%)
  • What they see on television (8%)
  • What they see in ads (6%). 25

It is parents, rather than alcohol ads, with the great influence over the alcohol decisions of young people.

Deception and Outrage

CAMY has posted on its website a discredited report by the Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse (CASA) without any mention of the widely-publicized misuse of data and other weaknesses in that misleading report. Thus, CAMY actively and intentionally perpetuates erroneous statistics as factual.

This is to be expected. CAMY seeks to create "public outrage" and grossly inflated statistics are more useful for this than are accurate facts.

People of integrity should be outraged at CAMY's blatant disregard for accuracy and the truth.

Is CAMY Racist?

The Black Economic Times thinks so. It points out that the Center on Alcohol Marketing and Youth incorrectly sees young African-Americans as victims of alcohol beverage advertising.
Although CAMY reports that Black youth see more alcohol advertising than others do, they drink much less than whites or other ethnic groups. For example, alcohol use within the past 30 days is 60% higher among white than Black youth and so-called binge drinking is over 100% higher among whites.

Black youth are exposed to more alcohol ads, but are dramatically less likely to drink than are whites and others. Because the Center on Alcohol Marketing and Youth incorrectly believes that alcohol ads lead young people to drink, it should see this a major inconsistency: More exposure to ads but less drinking. Apparently, CAMY is so focused on its self-proclaimed goal of creating "public outrage" against alcohol ads that it is blind to what it should consider a mysterious paradox.

The Center on Alcohol Marketing and Youth should devote some of its considerable wealth to exploring the unique strengths of the African-American sub-culture that help reduce the likelihood of alcohol use. The lessons learned might be useful to the larger society and everyone’s benefit.

As The Black Economic Times observes, "Perhaps CAMY and their paid consultants, op-ed writers, and ethnic collaborators for profit would be better disposed to the use of their time and energies focusing on strengths of consumers, instead of the implicit racism of their mind sets which lead them to believe that ethnic groups are mindless robots…"

CAMY is clearly wrong about the alleged effects of alcohol ads. Furthermore, it is naive at best about African-Americans and perhaps even racist, as The Black Economic Times contends. 26


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  • Listing does not imply endorsement.
  • Center for Alcohol Marketing and Youth. Radio Daze: Alcohol Ads Tune In Underage Youth. Washington, DC: Center for Alcohol Marketing and Youth, 2003.
  • Center for Alcohol Marketing and Youth. Television: Alcohol's Vast Adland. Washington, DC: Center for Alcohol Marketing and Youth, 2002.
  • Center for Alcohol Marketing and Youth. Out of Control: Alcohol Advertising Taking Aim at America's Youth. Washington, DC: Center for Alcohol Marketing and Youth, 2002.
  • Fisher, J.C. Advertising, Alcohol Consumption and Abuse: A Worldwide Survey. Westport, Connecticut: Greenwood, 1993.