Can't Advertise? Sing Instead

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In the U.S., alcohol advertising is strictly regulated. For example, you cannot advertise alcoholic beverages in media if more than 30% of the intended audience is less than 21 years old. You can’t use images designed to entice the underaged either, so no cartoon characters or commercials with young drinkers. Finally, advertising shouldn’t promote irresponsible drinking.

All this is well and good, and these standards are generally enforced by media outlets. However, alcoholic beverage manufacturers know that the teen market is substantial. Estimates vary, but underage drinkers account for at least 10% of total alcohol sales (directly or indirectly) as reported by the Center for Alcohol Marketing and Youth. This is a huge slice of the market and influencing this demographic to consume your product over a competitor’s would yield substantial profits.

The problem for sellers is how to market to youth when restrictions are in place.

The answer may be by using non-traditional and unregulated avenues. One study concludes that teens and young adults are getting substantial marketing messages through the music they listen to.

An astounding 25% of songs that mention alcohol also use a brand name. In other words, it isn’t just a mention of vodka, but Grey Goose Vodka. When researchers looked at the most popular songs and playlists during 2005 to 2007, they found an average of 3.4 mentions of alcohol by brand per music-hour, amounting to about 7 exposures a day. Further, when alcohol was mentioned in a song, it was commonly associated with wealth, sex and a luxury lifestyle.

The associations are very similar to how alcohol is advertised to adults in commercial media. But here they appear in songs. And because the songs hit the teen demographic preferentially, older adults are usually not aware of the messages included.

No direct link between mentions of alcohol brand names in songs and increased alcohol abuse has been shown. The assumption is that it is likely that this kind of under the radar advertising does have an impact.

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