CAMY: Fewer Alcohol Ads are Always Still Too Many Alcohol Ads

by David J. Hanson, Ph.D.

The Center for Alcohol Marketing and Youth (CAMY) is an alcohol industry watchdog group set up and funded by the anti-alcohol Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and Pew Charitable Trust. In its own words, CAMY seeks to create “public outrage” against alcohol ads. 1 In the words of The Wall Street Journal, the Center on Alcohol Marketing and Youth is an “anti-alcohol group that has launched a ‘crusade’ against alcohol advertising.”

Recently alcohol beverage producers voluntarily tightened their restrictions on advertising by restricting the proportion of people ages 12-20 who could be exposed to any of their alcohol ads on radio, television or in publications from 50% to 30%. That’s a reduction of nearly half.

However, CAMY isn’t satisfied. The anti-alcohol ad group is now calling for alcohol producers to further reduce, this time by a full half, the proportion of such people who can see or hear any alcohol ad in any of the mass media. 2 However, the Federal Trade Commission rejected CAMY’s earlier request for the same 15% cap, finding that it would be unduly restrictive. 3

CAMY repeatedly issues reports asserting that young people under the age of 21 are “overexposed” to alcohol beverage ads. 4 It submitted one such report to the Federal Trade Commission, arguing that underage drinkers are targeted by alcohol ads. In its investigation of alcohol marketing and youth, the FTC emphasized that “CAMY’s data confirm, however, that adults are in fact the primary audience for alcohol advertising.” 5

The FTC also investigated CAMY’s statistics suggesting that Hispanic youth hear more alcohol ads on radio than do Hispanic adults. 6 However, after analyzing CAMY’s numbers, the government agency found that they actually demonstrate that Hispanic adults of legal drinking age actually hear over 20 times more alcohol ads on radio than do those who are underage. 7

Incredibly, CAMY wants us to believe that Hispanic youth hear more alcohol ads on radio than do Hispanics adults when their own data actually show that adults actually hear 20 alcohol ads for each one heard by someone under the legal drinking age!

CAMY repeatedly insists that underage drinkers are targeted by alcohol ads. 8 However, the FTC has recently completed two exhaustive studies, including analyses of internal company documents on product development, marketing strategies, advertising strategies, and many other matters. It found no evidence of either the intent to target minors or of any targeting minors by alcohol producers. 9

In one of the FTC investigations of alleged targeting of youth in alcohol marketing, the Commission reviewed the consumer survey data submitted by CAMY. However, the Commission concluded that “flaws in the survey's methodology limit the ability to draw conclusions from the survey data” collected by CAMY. 10

The FTC’s description of CAMY’s research “flaws” is an understatement. In a footnote (#19), the Commission observed that CAMY’s systematic use of different questions for those above and below age 21 almost certainly biased the results and were inappropriate. In plain language, the CAMY “research” was deceptive junk science designed to mislead the Commission. It was so defective that it apparently could not legally be used by the FTC. 11

In reality, allegations of targeting and overexposure of minors is irrelevant. That’s because research conducted around the world for decades by governments, health agencies and universities has found that alcohol ads do not cause non-drinkers to become drinkers. Alcohol producers advertise because, if successful, they can increase market share. They do so at the expense of their less successful competitors, who lose market share. 12

But the facts don’t matter. The Center on Alcohol Marketing and Youth was created to create ‘public outrage” against alcohol ads regardless of the evidence. The belief seems to be that the end justifies the means.

The FTC has repeatedly found that CAMY’s numbers don’t demonstrate what CAMY says they do. Perhaps CAMY is simply a "statistically-impaired neo-prohibitionist organization" as one observer contends. 13 On the other hand, it’s been reported that CAMY “goes through enormous contortions to make provocative statements” 14 and it has perpetrated “bogus studies on alcohol marketing.” 15 Not surprisingly, an editor has asserted that "CAMY's calculations dissolve into banality upon close inspection" and its work "will outrage anyone who values intellectual honesty." 16

Dan Jaffe, executive VP for the Association of National Advertisers, says that CAMY doesn’t want any alcohol ads at all so the group keeps calling for ever more restrictions. He believes that regardless of how successful they may be in reducing and restricting alcohol ads “they will not be satisfied.” 17

CAMY’s behavior suggests that Mr. Jaffe is entirely correct about the temperance group.


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