Background: Neither federal regulations nor industry voluntary codes require 'responsibility' statements in alcohol advertising. Stand alone 'public service' responsibility campaigns have been found to convey pro-drinking themes. We analyzed responsibility statements placed in conventional alcohol advertising to consider how responsible drinking is presented, and potential communicative goals for responsibility messages.
Methods: We conducted a descriptive textual analysis of 'drink responsibly' messages appearing in all advertisements pertaining to beer, spirits and alcopop products placed in U.S. national, newsstand magazines from 2008 to 2010 (N=1795). We coded advertisements for presence, prominence and content of responsibility messages. Using a qualitative approach, we created a taxonomy of product promotional elements within the responsibility messages.
Results: Analysis revealed that 87% of the advertisements included a responsibility message (N=1555); responsibility messages were less prominent than any included tagline (product slogan). Messages never defined responsible drinking or promoted abstinence. No link was made between warnings and activities conveyed in the advertisements. There were 197 unique responsibility messages, 88% of which (N=174) were promotional of the advertised product. Responsibility promotional content was categorized into 5 strategies: Product name, Consumption information, Product qualities, Product promise, Qualities of the drinker.
Conclusions: Responsibility messages were overwhelmingly used to promote product rather than convey relevant public health information. Based on this analysis, existing responsibility messages are largely ineffective at conveying relevant public health information, and should be supplemented by or replaced with prominently placed, externally developed, cognitively tested warnings that do not reinforce marketing messages.
Keywords: Advertising; Alcohol; Responsibility; Underage drinking; Warnings.
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