Cable Off the Wagon

The number of ads for alcoholic beverages increased significantly on cable between 2001 and 2004, with many of those ads viewed by potential underage drinkers.

According to a study released Dec. 12 by the Center on Alcohol Marketing and Youth at Georgetown University, the number of alcoholic-beverage spots on cable grew 3,392% over that four-year span.

The proliferation of ads viewed by youth came despite self-regulation by the distilled-spirits industry, according to the center’s research director, David Jernigan.

“Exposure to alcohol ads influences youth drinking behavior,” Jernigan said in a prepared statement. “Kids need to see fewer of these messages glamorizing alcohol use, not more.”

The center’s study said liquor ads on cable climbed to 37,328 last year from 645 in 2001.

Cabletelevision Advertising Bureau CEO Sean Cunningham said those statistics must be put into context. The Distilled Sprits Council of the United States Inc. (DISCUS) -- the liquor-industry advisory board that kept alcohol ads off TV for years -- had just lifted that prohibition by 2001, so the study started with an extremely low number of cable spots, he noted

DISCUS promotes guidelines for media regarding where it is appropriate to place alcohol ads. Ads are not to be placed in any program where less than 70% of the audience is of drinking age, according to the council.

Cunningham said the subject of alcohol ads is taken seriously on both the media and agency side of the advertising business. Most CAB members use DISCUS as a baseline, plus standards of their own. For instance, alcohol ads aren’t animated, nor do they feature personalities, such as professional wrestlers, who attract a youthful fan base.