Study: Disclosure of advertising tactics reduces odds kids will drink

November 16, 2006

University Park, Pa. -- A new research report from Penn State's Smeal College of Business finds that modest in-school lessons revealing the goals and effects of alcohol advertising can reduce the likelihood that adolescents will drink.

Dozens of research studies done over the past 20 years have found a correlation between alcohol advertising and underage drinking.

To counter the effectiveness of those ads, a team of researchers led by Smeal's Marvin E. Goldberg, Irving and Irene Bard Professor of Business Administration, designed a weeklong intervention to educate children about the persuasive tactics used by advertisers. Teachers presented the lessons to students in 50-minute sessions once a day for five days.

The instruction provided students with persuasion knowledge and equipped them with critical thinking skills and processing strategies to question alcohol advertising and better deal with the ads' persuasive messages, ultimately reducing the children's inclination to drink.

"Our basic premise was that getting youths to better understand advertisers' motives and tactics would result in heightened vigilance and a reactance response," Goldberg and his colleagues write.

They found that the students who learned about advertising strategy and critical thinking, particularly those who had previously consumed alcohol, expressed more critical attitudes toward alcohol advertising and stronger intentions not to drink in the future.

According to Goldberg, the relative simplicity of the instruction makes this kind of program viable. Past alcohol and drug programs in schools have been canceled or phased out because of their expense, time consumption, or lack of results. An actual program like this one, in which teachers administer the short lessons, taking up little class time, could be feasible and produce results.

A total of 414 sixth-grade students from 15 separate classrooms participated in the study, consisting of the five lessons and a confidential questionnaire about alcohol use and attitudes administered two hours after the last lesson for one group and one week later for another group. A control group did not receive the instruction, but still filled out the survey.

"Heightening Adolescent Vigilance towards Alcohol Advertising to Forestall Alcohol Use," will be published in this month's edition of the Journal of Public Policy & Marketing. Co-authors with Goldberg on the report are Keith E. Niedermeier of The Wharton School, Lori J. Bechtel of Penn State, and Gerald J. Gorn of Hong Kong University of Science and Technology.

Goldberg is the Irving & Irene Bard Professor of Business Administration at Smeal, where much of his research has focused on the study of advertising's effects on children and adolescents. He has master's degree in sociology from Columbia University and a Ph.D. in marketing from the University of Illinois.

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Last Updated March 19, 2009