Exposure to alcohol marketing is prevalent and is associated with both initiation and progression of alcohol use in underage youth. The mechanism of influence is not well understood, however. This study tests a model that proposes alcohol-specific cognitions as mediators of the relation between alcohol marketing and problematic drinking among experimental underage drinkers.
This study describes a cross-sectional analysis of 1,734 U.S. 15- to 20-year-old underage drinkers, recruited for a national study of media and substance use. Subjects were queried about a number of alcohol marketing variables including TV time, Internet time, favorite alcohol ad, ownership of alcohol-branded merchandise (ABM), and exposure to alcohol brands in movies. The relation between these exposures and current (30-day) binge drinking was assessed, as were proposed mediators of this relation, including marketing-specific cognitions (drinker identity and favorite brand to drink), favorable alcohol expectancies, and alcohol norms. Paths were tested in a structural equation model that controlled for sociodemographics, personality, and peer drinking.
Almost one-third of this sample of ever drinkers had engaged in 30-day binge drinking. Correlations between mediators were all statistically significant (range 0.16 to 0.47), and all were significantly associated with binge drinking. Statistically significant mediation was found for the association between ABM ownership and binge drinking through both drinker identity and having a favorite brand to drink, which also mediated the path between movie brand exposure and binge drinking. Peer drinking and sensation seeking were associated with binge drinking in paths through all mediators.
Associations between alcohol marketing and binge drinking were mediated through marketing-specific cognitions that assess drinker identity and brand allegiance, cognitions that marketers aim to cultivate in the consumer.