Pitt Study Finds U.S. Kids Heavily Exposed To Alcohol Brands in Music

Updated on January 15, 2022

Alcohol References in Songs Are Associated With Sex, Drugs, Violence, Researchers Say

Researchers at the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine have found that the average U.S. adolescent is heavily exposed to alcohol brand references in popular music, according to a study published online Oct. 20 in the international journal Addiction. Branded alcohol references are most common in rap, R&B, and hip hop songs, and are often associated with a luxury lifestyle characterized by degrading sexual activity, wealth, partying, violence and the use of drugs, the study found.

Researchers analyzed 793 of the most popular songs in the youth market between 2005 and 2007 and reported that a brand name was included in a song about 25 percent of the time alcohol was mentioned, representing about 3.4 alcohol brand references per song-hour. Given that the average adolescent is exposed to about 2.5 hours of popular music per day, young people’s annual exposure to alcohol brand references in popular music is substantial, the study reported. Consequences associated with alcohol were more often positive than negative (41.5% vs. 17.1%). Alcohol brand appearances were commonly associated with wealth (63.4%), sex (58.5%), luxury objects (51.2%), partying (48.8%), other drugs (43.9%), and vehicles (39%).

“Frequent exposure of young people to brand-name references in popular music may constitute a form of advertising and could encourage substance use among adolescents,” said Brian Primack, M.D., Ed.M., M.S., assistant professor of medicine and pediatrics at Pitt’s School of Medicine, who led the study.

Primack said brand-name references to alcohol are typically strongly aligned with positive feelings and associations, which are often the goal of advertisements. The brands found in music represent the same distilled spirits brands that are increasingly named as favorites by underage drinkers, especially women.

The authors suggest that the relatively high level of brand-name alcohol appearances in popular music may be a consequence of strengthening ties between the alcohol and music industries.  Some alcohol companies have formally entered the music industry, such as Seagram’s ownership of Universal and Polygram between 1995 and 2001. And individual artists, particularly those in the rap and hip-hop communities, have begun to establish and promote their own alcohol lines.

According to the authors, most instances of brand-name references in song lyrics seem to be unsolicited and unpaid for by advertising companies. However, the authors note that the line between paid advertising and brand references is difficult to distinguish because advertising companies have begun to retroactively reward artists with product, sponsorship, or endorsement deals after a song containing their product’s name becomes popular.

Alcohol trade associations such as the Distilled Spirits Council of the United States have developed self-regulation codes that specify inappropriate marketing practices, such as a guideline forbidding marketing to audiences below legal drinking age, the authors note. However, because rap music is popular among high school students, the authors suggest that advertising campaigns that focus on rap artists are not consistent with the alcohol industry’s stated intent to avoid marketing to underage drinkers.

Collaborators on the study were Erin Nuzzo and Kristen Rice, both of the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine, and James D. Sargent, M.D., Dartmouth Medical School.

A video of Dr. Primack discussing the research will be available Thursday, Oct. 20 on YouTube.

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