Marketing Alcohol to Kids and Teens in Song
One of my passions is the ways in which we are influenced without our knowledge. These are referred to as subconscious influences. And it turns out we are far more easily influenced than we realize.
Priming studies have consistently shown that we are influenced by a task as simple as unscrambling four sentences. Given the right word, these priming tasks have been shown to effect short term memory, pace of walking, aggression, degree of politeness, and body posture.
So it was with great interest that I looked at this new study looking at the effects of music lyrics on alcohol consumption in teens in the United Kingdom. As one in five songs in the top ten in the UK reference booze, do these lyrics have any impact on teen drinking? Which raises other critical questions, if behavior is affected by lyrics, what effect are the myriad of songs referencing prescription pill use, marijuana use, illegal drug use having?
Mention of alcohol is so blatant in songs, I’ve wondered if alcohol companies are paying musicians for product mentions in songs. What better way is there to market to the younger generation?!
Several experts argue that recent evidence shows that public health messages on alcohol may be drowning amidst the louder and more ubiquitous messages from some genres within the music industry.
Researchers from Liverpool John Moores University found that older children and teens listen to more than two hours of music daily. Researchers in the United States have documented a rise in alcohol and drug references, including mention of specific liquor brands and types (e.g., Patron), in popular music. But until recently, little data was available on comparable UK trends. Hardcastle’s team selected four years for analysis, comparing music charts across four decades. They discovered a significant increase in the number of times alcohol was mentioned.
Top ten songs in the early 1980s contained relatively few references to alcohol, with the number declining further in 1991. Rave culture was popular in this period; a music scene linked more to Ecstasy than alcohol. But alcohol references returned by 2001, showing up in eight percent of popular hits. This figure continues to rise, more than doubling by 2011, with almost one in five (18.5%) top ten songs featuring alcohol-related lyrics. This pattern is consistent with US trends, although UK charts still have fewer alcohol mentions than their US counterparts.
Alcohol-related song lyrics are associated with hip hop and rap and US artists, with lyrics generally putting a positive spin on alcohol consumption. Drinking is linked to confidence, outgoingness or physical attractiveness, as well as outcomes such as money, fame, and sex. Popular artists sing about the negative effects of alcohol far less frequently.
Lyrics have an impact beyond the US and UK, pointing out that US and British songs often have global appeal. For example, US artist Katy Perry’s 2011 single “Last Friday Night” detailing excessive drinking and risk-taking behavior, achieved a top 10 position not only in the US and the UK, but also in 15 other countries.
So what impact do these alcohol references have on young people? It is highly likely that we underestimate the true impact of exposure to pro-alcohol messages young people hear, says lead researcher Katherine Hardcastle:
“Public health concerns are already focused on the impacts of alcohol advertising on the drinking behaviours of young people, yet the growing reference to alcohol in popular music could mean that alcohol promoting messages are reaching much larger audiences; regardless of restrictions (e.g. age) on direct advertising.”
The study concludes that:
“The exposure of young people to alcohol in the media is a major concern given its potential impact on drinking behaviours [...] A greater understanding of the impacts of alcohol-related popular music content on young listeners is urgently needed. Health and other professionals should be vigilant for increases in alcohol-related lyrics and work to ensure that popular music does not become a medium for reinforcing and extending cultures of intoxication and alcohol-related harm.”
Given that we listen to our favorite songs hundreds, if not thousands, of times, it seems safe to assume that frequent repetition of pro-alcohol and pro-drug lyrics will normalize such behaviors making them somewhat more likely to occur.
In my private practice, I see this frequently with male adolescents who are listening exclusively to rap and hip-hop. While I enjoy several songs of Wiz Khalifa and 2 Chainz, I also know enough to listen to them infrequently. Our emotional mind is trained most effectively via repetition. Listening to pro-marijuana lyrics thousands of times is likely to influence minds which are already open to suggestions.
Keep an open mind!
Positive Psychology Coach
Anger Management Specialist
Founder, Guide to Self, Inc.
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Danville CA 94526
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- Katherine A. Hardcastle, Karen Hughes, Olivia Sharples, and Mark A. Bellis. Trends in alcohol portrayal in popular music: A longitudinal analysis of the UK charts. Psychology of Music, September 2013 DOI: 10.1177/0305735613500701