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By Rebecca Smith

Last year, more than 111 million people watched the Super Bowl. And many people (including yours truly!) only watch to see the commercials.

Sometimes they’re funny, sometimes they’re poignant, but they all have one goal in mind: to get people to buy a product.

Every year, there are a few commercials from alcohol companies. This would be the perfect time to talk to your kids about how alcohol is portrayed in advertising versus the reality of underage drinking.

More and more studies have found that the more young people are exposed to alcohol advertising, the more likely they are to start drinking or, if already drinking, to drink more, said David Jernigan, Director of the Center on Alcohol Marketing and Youth (CAMY) at Johns Hopkins University.

However, you can use this time as a natural opportunity to talk to your kids. The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends talking to your kids about alcohol as early as 9 years old, and to have the conversation often.

When teens are surveyed about what influences their decision to drink, parents are always No. 1 on the list, even above peers and media.

Nielsen is a national research company that measures television viewing and other media outlets. They found that “through numerous studies conducted worldwide, the average short-term return-on-investment (sales within three months of media execution) is 9 percent.”

That means for every dollar a company spends on advertising, they can expect to see an average of $1.09 in sales. And that’s just the average for all media. For online advertising alone, the return-on-investment is a whopping $2.18.

And there are unique advantages of advertising specifically to teenagers.

“Teenagers not only have substantial buying power of their own, but they also have an influence over what their parents and peers buy,” reads a business article from the Houston Chronicle. “Advertising to teens and gaining their loyalty and brand recognition can create a consumer of your product for life. This makes your advertising dollars an investment in the future of your company’s sales.”

Unfortunately, it seems some alcohol companies are aware of how lucrative it can be to advertise to teens, despite the negative consequences of underage drinking.

Alcohol advertising can be found almost everywhere a teen looks. According to research from CAMY, forms of alcohol advertising that predict drinking onset among youth are found in magazines, television, radio, billboards, in-store beer displays, sports concessions, movies, and ownership of alcohol promotional items.

The average teenager sees 23 alcohol ads a month, and CAMY estimates there is a 1 percent increase in drinking for every ad seen.

You may be wondering how alcohol companies can be allowed to expose youth to advertising in this way. Unfortunately, alcohol companies have largely been left to regulate themselves.

By 2003, the wine, beer, and distilled spirits industries all agreed to advertise only where people under 21 comprise less than 30 percent of the audience. But 12-20 year olds only make up less than 15 percent of the general population.

“So the industry’s 30 percent standard allows them to be exposed to alcohol advertising at more than double the rate of the rest of the population,” Jernigan said. “A 15 percent standard would more effectively prevent overexposure of this vulnerable group.”

And oftentimes, alcohol companies don’t even follow their own regulations. On radio, 32 percent of alcohol advertising played disproportionately on stations with youth audiences, and more than half of youth exposure came from ads placed on programs that youth were more likely to hear than adults.

Are you outraged yet? We haven’t even talked about social media sites, many of which tend to skew younger.

Youth on social media aren’t supposed to be able to see content from alcohol retailers unless they are over 21. But last year, a Texas A&M professor, Adam Barry, tested the regulations by creating 10 fake accounts on which he entered a birthdate younger than 21 and tried to interact with 22 of the alcohol brands adolescents consume most often.

“‘What we found is that on both sites, Twitter and Instagram, all underage profiles could view and completely interact with all posted alcohol content, like the content, and share posts with other profiles, such as retweeting,’” Barry said in the press release from A&M. “‘The Age Gate would only activate on Twitter if the user attempted to voluntarily follow an alcohol company. For Instagram, all underage profiles could follow every brand and ultimately receive promotional material directly to their smartphones.’”

By the end of the 30-day study, the 10 media accounts had received hundreds of advertisements.

Youth aren’t as able as adults to think critically about the impacts of advertising, so it’s our job to make sure they are protected. So when you see that heartwarming or funny ad from an alcohol advertiser this Super Bowl, it’s OK to appreciate the creativity, but be sure to also take the opportunity to tell them about the consequences and let them know you don’t approve of them drinking underage.

For more information on how to talk to your kids about underage drinking, visit