(I had a notepad with me while I was reading this morning’s paper, so I have a lot to say today!)
So this study found that on radio broadcasts with a higher youth audience, there were proportionately more ads for alcoholic beverages than in less youth-oriented programming. They also found that in areas that had more advertising for alcohol, more underage drinking was going on. The article implied that there was a connection between increased advertisement of alcohol to young people and increased underage drinking.
Now, I’m not a big fan of these arguments that confuse correlation with causality, but it’s always interesting to see the aftermath.
Jeff Becker, president of the Beer Institute (now there’s a job for ya!) issued a statement saying that the advertisers are working really hard to comply with the law, that there was no correlation, and, get this, that parents are more influential on kids’ drinking than advertisements were. Of course, this raises the question – if advertising isn’t all that effective, how come we’re forced to endure so damn much of it? I mean, come on, it’s everywhere you look, everywhere you go, and has even made inroads into our school systems! I’d imagine that if it weren’t effective, advertisers would give up, and we could all be much happier in a world with less marketing clutter. Actually, I pray for this to happen, and I don’t believe that prayer is all that effective, so you know I want it bad.
My thought is that just as with other kinds of advertisement, the alcohol ads are being placed where there’s already an existing demand, and are simply trying to expand an existing marketing niche rather than create a new one. If you’ve learned anything at all about marketing, you know that it’s important to create a need and then sell the product to fulfill that need. The process is easier when the need you create simply expands an existing need rather than trying to conjure a new one out of the blue. Selling something that’s new and improved and somehow better is the way to go, so marketers are going to target audiences who’ve already purchased their products or similar products. They’re going to use sales data and demographics to target their ads where they’ll generate the most revenue for the lowest investment. Sad to say, Mr. Becker is more on track than the researchers, although he left out the peer influence factor.
This goes right along with the foreign language billboards. Not too long ago, the Mayor of Jersey City made a big deal about some McDonald’s billboards that were in Spanish. Of course, there were plenty of people ready to jump on the bandwagon, and the editorial pages of the Star-Ledger gave them some exposure. Not all of that exposure was good, though, IMO. It showed a good deal of ignorance of many things. For example, the assumption on the part of many objectors that this happens only in Spanish. Clearly, these people don’t get out much. You don’t have to go far in New Jersey to find signs, billboards, newspapers, promotional flyers, in plenty of languages besides English and Spanish. Head out to Edison and you’ll see all of this in Hindi. Check out Ridgefield Park for Korean. Clifton has a block of Turks in among the Saudis and Mexicans. And while the Poles and Russians have been around long enough to be pretty proficient in English, you can still find their written and spoken languages scattered throughout the state. We have pockets of immigrants all over! The next thing the objectors go for is insisting that advertisers advertise only in English. Well, that’s fine if you’re targeting only companies that have X number of dollars of revenue or Y size geographic coverage, but then what happens when the big companies, with their well-paid lawyers, object to the fact that these smaller businesses are still allowed to advertise in the language of their targeted clientele? Because, you see, it’s just like the alcohol ads. The advertisers aren’t going to waste their time putting out ads in languages their target audence isn’t going to understand. You’re not going to see McDonald’s ads in French (actually, given the small number of French speakers in this country, you’re probably not going to see many ads for anything in French. . .) The Korean billboards aren’t going to be in Newton and Andover. The Hindi billboards aren’t going to be in Seaside Heights. The Turkish newspapers aren’t going to sell too well in Cherry Hill. The non-English advertising isn’t the cause, but the symptom of people not speaking English. (Pardon me for saying “duh” here.) The people who are trying to fix the problem by disallowing billboards in Spanish just aren’t getting it.
If there weren’t a target audience, there wouldn’t be the ads. That’s what it all comes down to. Blaming the advertisers, making more laws about ads, restricting the language and placement of ads, is all smoke and mirrors.
For my own part, though, I wouldn’t complain so much if it actually resulted in less advertisement in general. (staring up into the sky and whistling innocently. . .)