Objective: The question addressed in this review is whether aggregate alcohol advertising increases alcohol consumption among college students. Both the level of alcohol-related problems on college campuses and the level of alcohol advertising are high. Some researchers have concluded that the cultural myths and symbols used in alcohol advertisements have powerful meanings for college students and affect intentions to drink. There is, however, very little empirical evidence that alcohol advertising has any effect on actual alcohol consumption.
Method: The methods used in this review include a theoretical framework for evaluating the effects of advertising. This theory suggests that the marginal effect of advertising diminishes at high levels of advertising. Many prior empirical studies measured the effect of advertising at high levels of advertising and found no effect. Those studies that measure advertising at lower, more disaggregated levels have found an effect on consumption.
Results: The results of this review suggest that advertising does increase consumption. However, advertising cannot be reduced with limited bans, which are likely to result in substitution to other available media. Comprehensive bans on all forms of advertising and promotion can eliminate options for substitution and be potentially more effective in reducing consumption. In addition, there is an increasing body of literature that suggests that alcohol counteradvertising is effective in reducing the alcohol consumption of teenagers and young adults.
Conclusions: These findings indicate that increased counteradvertising, rather than new advertising bans, appears to be the better choice for public policy. It is doubtful that the comprehensive advertising bans required to reduce advertising would ever receive much public support. New limited bans on alcohol advertising might also result in less alcohol counteradvertising. An important topic for future research is to identify the counteradvertising themes that are most effective with youth.