Teen Drinkers Under the Influence of Event Sponsorship

It’s marketing 101. Go where the customers are. In the case of alcohol brands, companies may well be creating customers for the future. In the first study of its kind, Boston University found teens and others under age 21 are more likely to consume brands that sponsor sports, music, and arts and entertainment events.

However, sports, music and entertainment appeal to demographics that extend beyond the younger set. Are the kids simply mimicking adults? Researchers couldn’t conclude that wasn’t the case after looking at U.S. sponsorship by the top 75 brands consumed by underage drinkers from 2010 to 2013.

The brand results were gleaned by a national Internet-based survey of young people about what they had consumed the previous 30 days.

Underage drinking “cannot be understood and addressed adequately without … monitoring and measuring the impact of this highly prevalent form of alcohol marketing,” said researchers, who were led by Michael Siegel, professor of community health sciences at Boston University School of Public Health.

The study, which appeared in the journal Addiction, by its broad scope provided insight into what underage drinkers are consuming, and what events companies are sponsoring.

Sponsorship Heavy at the Top

Bud Light is clearly the 800-pound gorilla. It had only a half-dozen sponsorships, but one can easily see its reach by whom it chooses to partner with. Not only is it the official sponsor of the NFL, but has sponsored the GLAAD Media Awards, the U.S. Women’s National Soccer team, Ultimate Fighting Championship, and two music events: the Shama Lama Spring Fling in Myrtle Beach, S.C., and a Battle of the Bands that sent 5,000 promotional winners aboard two cruise liners. That reach covers sports, gay, women’s (and indirectly girls) athletics, men and music lovers.

Bud Light and Budweiser were the two beers consumed most over the previous 30 days, according to the survey of young respondents. Smirnoff Malt Beverages and Mike’s led the flavored alcohol market. Smirnoff and Absolut were Nos. 1 and 2 among vodkas. Jack Daniel’s was tops among whiskey, Captain Morgan among rums, and Jose Cuervo among tequilas.

Almost half the 945 sponsorships came from the top 10 brands preferred by youth. The top 10 were Bud Light, Smirnoff Malt Beverages, Budweiser, Smirnoff Vodkas, Coors Light, Jack Daniel’s Whiskeys, Corona Extra, Mike’s, Captain Morgan Rums and Absolut Vodkas. By contrast, there were only 87 event sponsorships by the bottom brands.

By design or not, sponsorship appeared to be a key component to extending the brand’s reach to the underage drinker. Those brands consumed by at least 5 percent of respondents were 10 times more likely to sponsor events than the less popular brands.

Two dozen sponsorships—and this could range from concerts and festivals to charity events and parties to the NFL or race cars—was the average for the most popular brands, whereas the less popular brands sponsored about 12 events.

Researchers concluded alcohol companies build brand equity or “brand capital” by associating their labels “with aspects of American life for which audiences already have positive affect. For example, Bud Light builds on Americans’ love of football by being practically ubiquitous through its sponsorship of the National Football League.”

However, targeting NFL fans is hardly taking dead aim at teen drinkers. Teens may be drinking Bud Light simply because it’s the beverage that’s available. Still, it’s obviously having an impact.

Targeted Marketing to Build Brand Capital

Just as Bud Light wants to be synonymous with the NFL, Absolut Vodka targeted a different culture and accounted for 10 percent of what young drinkers had consumed in the previous month.

Absolut has sought to identify itself with consumers who are lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender by sponsoring no fewer than 18 LGBT events among the 40 it backed in the course of the study, including Carnival Week and Memorial Day festivities in Provincetown, Mass., serving as a presenting sponsor for “RuPaul’s Drag Race” on the Logo network, and any number of pride festivals throughout the country.

By comparison, the other seven Vodka brands sponsored only 13 such events.

Music and Alcohol, Natural Dance Partners

Music entertainment played a large role in the study, however inconclusive.

“It is difficult to imagine that with 166 music sponsorships—58 of them among the top 10 youth alcohol brands—these brands are not reaching youth,” researchers wrote, indicating that such marketing deserves to be studied further. “Our policies have important research, practice and policy implications. … As has been the case with tobacco, public health campaigns may be needed to discourage organizations from accepting alcohol industry sponsorship.”

That might be a tough sell, as tobacco has obvious health risks inherent with its use, and alcohol’s risks tend to be more associated with immediate abuse than mild long-term consumption.

“[Sponsorship] generates brand capital through positive associations with integral aspects of culture, creation of attractive brand personalities, and identification with specific market segments,” the study said. “Alcohol research, practice and policy should address this highly prevalent form of alcohol marketing.”

By Martin Henderson

Posted on May 12th, 2015

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