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Alcohol, Ads, and Your Kids: How to Read Between the Lines

Advertising is everywhere–on TV, the bus, the street, and the Internet.1   Alcohol advertising is no exception. Alcohol ads make the product look great, associating the brand with cool, sexy people, and fun activities. The ads are specifically designed to communicate appealing ideas about the product: “it’s for people like me,” “it makes activities even better,” “it’s popular/stylish,” and “people want to be seen drinking this.” Unfortunately, the ads may make our youth think all of these things too.

So, what can parents do to change their child’s perception of alcohol? You can use media literacy techniques (the ability to access, analyze, evaluate, and create media) to help your child view ads more critically. When you sit down to watch television, make it a teachable moment. Adjust the approach to fit your child’s age and attention level. Choose an ad and ask questions like:

  • Who created or sponsored the ad? Why?
  • What do they want you to do? How do they want you to respond?
  • What methods are being used to make the product and scene look more attractive?
    • The people in the ad and how they look.
    • What the people are doing and where they are doing it.
    • Associating the brand with fun, sports, humor.
    • Suggesting that alcohol makes the situation/activity better.
    • The feeling the ad evokes. Is this a coincidence, or did the advertiser intend it?
    • The message the ad is trying to make you believe.
    • The values and lifestyle the ad represents.
    • Things the ad isn’t saying or is leaving out.  Does it show anything bad about alcohol?
    • Some negative results of misusing alcohol that the ad doesn’t mention.

An exercise like this can help your child better understand that the purpose of alcohol ads is to communicate the advertiser’s point of view and increase sales with no concern for any possible negative, long-term impact the product might have on people. It also provides an opportunity to learn how to challenge what an ad is saying. Over time, this exercise will help your child realize that they don’t have to buy into or be a victim of the advertiser’s message.

For more information on alcohol advertising, check out the following links:

American Academy of Family Physicians
Federal Trade Commission (FTC)
Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau


[1] Federal Trade Commission (FTC):

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