Youthful Drinking and Driving: Policy Implications From Mass Media Research

John P. Murry, Jr., University of Wisconsin-Madison
[ to cite ]:
John P. Murry (1991) ,"Youthful Drinking and Driving: Policy Implications From Mass Media Research", in NA - Advances in Consumer Research Volume 18, eds. Rebecca H. Holman and Michael R. Solomon, Provo, UT : Association for Consumer Research, Pages: 120-122.

Advances in Consumer Research Volume 18, 1991      Pages 120-122


John P. Murry, Jr., University of Wisconsin-Madison


By the end of this year alcohol related traffic accidents will kill over 24,000 people and inflict a half-million others with lingering trauma, spinal cord and brain injuries. This recurring tragedy is especially relevant to consumer researchers. Specifically, consumer behavior research rarely deals with dysfunctional usage problems such as those associated with alcohol and automobiles. Nevertheless, public policy officials have repeatedly emphasized the need for solid consumer research to guide the development of a comprehensive anti-drinking-driving strategy (United States Department of Health and Human Services 1988). The current lack of research on which to base drinking-driving remedies has fueled serious disagreements between the alcohol industry, government agencies, and private advocate groups. At the present time, however, these disagreements are driven more by armchair reasoning rather than research results and thus reflect little more than differences in opinion. It is clear that resolving such conflicts and advancing an effective drinking and driving policy hinges on building a strong foundation of consumer research.

Consumer researchers from a variety of backgrounds can contribute to reducing alcohol abuse problems. For example, policy research is needed in the areas of government regulation of alcohol warning labels, minimum pricing standards, alcohol distribution practices, and the targeting of disadvantaged consumer segments. It is clear, however, that the long-run solution to the drinking-driving problem requires a comprehensive public health education program that utilizes the mass media (Koop 1989). Therefore, this session focused on the potential role that the mass media can play in this education effort.


The session addressed two mass media issues previously identified as key topics requiring further consumer research (United States Department of Health and Human Services 1988). First, critics claim that beer advertising creates dangerous misconceptions about alcohol consumption. Associating beer consumption with valued end-states, such as peer respect or masculinity, and valued activities, such as athletics or work is thought to predispose young people to drink and drive. Advocates for banning lifestyle based beer advertising frequently cite the research stream of Lance Strate and his colleagues (i.e., Postman et al. 1987). Strate's presentation provided a textual analysis of the images and themes commonly found in beer ads over the past several years. Based on social learning theory, he concluded that the typically heavy exposure that youths have to these ads contributes to subsequent alcohol abuse problems such as drinking and driving. Therefore, he recommends banning beer advertising or, at a minimum, significantly restricting its content to functional product information.

The second topic concerned the effectiveness of using mass media advertising to deliver anti-drinking-driving messages. Mike Flynn discussed the developmental research and strategy upon which Anheuser-Busch's "Know When to When Campaign" is based. This highly publicized campaign is an indication of the brewing industry's efforts to curb drinking-driving. His presentation illustrated the critical linkage that should exist between consumer research in industry and both academic and government sponsored research. Similarly, the Murry, Lastovicka and Stam paper examined the effectiveness of both a "paid-media" anti-drinking driving advertising campaign and a "donated-media" campaign (public service announcements) in curbing youthful drinking-driving fatalities. The development and implementation of these campaigns was guided by the previously published youthful male lifestyle typology (Lastovicka et al. 1987; Lastovicka, Murry and Joachimsthaler 1990). The effectiveness of the "paid-media" and "donated-media" campaigns was evaluated in three city test market that was conducted for the Department of Transportation. The study's results indicate that well-executed media campaigns can reduce youthful drinking-driving behavior. Specifically, both survey data and actual traffic accident data indicate that the incidence of youthful drinking and driving behavior decreased in the cities receiving either a "paid-media" or "donated-media" campaign treatment.

Paul N. Bloom (University of North Carolina Chapel Hill) served as the discussant. His comments emphasized the need to focus on the "net" effect that any change in current mass media regulatory policy would have on alcohol abuse problems. He disagreed with Strate concerning the overall effect that would result from restricting beer advertising. He argued that a ban on advertising would diminish competitive pressures in the industry and stabilize current market shares. Further, Bloom noted that the ban on broadcast cigarette advertising allowed the tobacco industry to reallocate resources traditionally targeted for domestic advertising into foreign market expansion and the acquisition of new product categories such as beer. Hence, he questioned whether a similar ban on beer advertising would have a positive "net" effect on diminishing alcohol abuse problems or simply encourage brewers to invest in other types of marketing activities.

Although Bloom did not favor banning beer advertising, he acknowledge that such ads probably do contribute to alcohol abuse problems. Moreover, he did not believe that the responsible drinking media campaigns being sponsored by the brewing industry cancel out the negative effects associated their traditional advertising efforts. Therefore, he questioned whether media campaigns, such as the Anheuser-Busch "Know When to Say When" campaign outlined by Flynn, actually provide a socially acceptable long run solution. To this end, Bloom emphasized the need for future evaluation research that examines the efficacy of wide array of policy options. He concluded by encouraging the brewing industry to sponsor consumer education evaluation research studies such as illustrated in Murry, Lastovicka and Stam's research.




Lance Strate, Fordham University

Theory and research on the processes of social learning indicates that television programming and commercial advertisements, apart from their intended functions and target audiences, play an important role in socialization. Given the controversy surrounding certain products, such as alcoholic beverages, an examination of the ways in which they are advertised is in order. Modern advertising and television commercials in particular, generally do not provide logical arguments and claims for their products, but instead present associations between products and evocative images and themes. These images and themes are drawn from the set of symbols, values, and myths that make up our culture. In order to analyze the content of advertisements and understand the role that they play in socialization, it is necessary to determine the cultural meanings of the images and themes used.

This type of textual analysis is commonly employed in disciplines such as semiotics, structuralism, cultural and critical studies. Applying this method to specific beer commercials aired in the last several years, this paper discusses the nature and role of beer and cultural conceptions of masculinity as presented in the ads, and their relationship with social problems such as alcoholism and drinking and driving.



J. H. "Mike" Flynn, D'Arcy, Massius, Benton and Bowles, Inc.

During 1980's the advertising and brewing industries became increasingly sensitive to alcohol abuse problems. This concern resulted in the advertising industry donating hundreds of millions of dollars in free media and contributing countless hours of creative talent. As a leader in the brewing industry, Anheuser-Busch has been in the forefront in developing programs to curb alcohol abuse problems such as drinking and driving. These programs include activities such as cooperative educational efforts with the NCAA on college campuses as well as a significant investment in the much publicized "Know When to Say When" ad campaign.

This presentation describe the research and philosophy behind Anheuser-Busch's strategy for fighting the irresponsible use of alcohol. The presentation focused on the development of the "Know When to Say When" campaign and detailed how early persuasion research concerning fear appeals was used to develop the initial campaign strategy. The presentation went on to discuss how subsequent qualitative research was employed to refine both the strategy and creative executions. The Anheuser-Busch experience illustrates how consumer research can be used as a tool for discouraging drinking and driving as well as this company's commitment to promoting responsible alcohol consumption.



John P. Murry, Jr., University of Wisconsin-Madison

John L. Lastovicka, University of Kansas

Antonie Stam, University of Georgia

A large scale field experiment tested the effects of two mass media channel policies across three cities. In the first experimental site, anti-drinking-driving messages were distributed as "paid-media" advertisements. In the second site these same anti-drinking-driving messages were distributed as public service announcements (PSA's) to be aired through donated media. A third site received no treatment and was used as a control. The relative effectiveness of the "paid-media" campaign and "PSA" campaign was evaluated by two methods. First, changes in pre- and post-test sample survey estimates of self-reported drinking-driving behavior were assessed at the PSA, paid campaign and control sites. These analyses were supplemented by time series modeling of official monthly fatal traffic accident data from each site. The sample survey and time series modeling provided converging evidence that the PSA and paid campaign channel policies were equally effective with targeted youth populations. Both media policies reduced youthful fatal and incapacitating accidents and self-reported estimates of drinking-driving incidence. These results indicate that a well planned PSA campaign can be as effective as a well planned paid media advertising campaign in reducing youthful drinking-driving problems.


Drinking and driving results from the misuse of two consumer products: automobiles and alcohol. As such, it is one of the few domains in which consumer researchers can have a direct influence on either saving lives or minimizing human suffering. The goal of this session was to motivate more consumer researchers to conduct drinking-driving research. The session clearly illustrated that alcohol abuse problems and specifically drinking-driving, provide a relevant domain for testing theoretical propositions derived from numerous areas of consumer research. Although this session focused on mass media issues, it is apparent that further consumer research is needed on such diverse topics as pricing, persuasion, segmentation, distribution and information processing. Therefore, consumer researchers from a variety of backgrounds are urged to contribute their knowledge and skills to remedying this tragic social problem.


Koop, C. Everett (1989), comments from a May 31 press conference as reported in the American Association of Advertising Agencies Washington Newsletter, Washington D. C., July/August, pg. 1.

Lastovicka, John L., John P. Murry, Jr., Erich A. Joachimsthaler, Guarav Bhalla and Jim Scheurich (1987), "A Lifestyle Typology to Model Young Male Drinking and Driving," Journal of Consumer Research, (14) September, 157-63.

Lastovicka, John L., John P. Murry, Jr. and Erich Joachimsthaler (1990), "Evaluating the Measurement Validity of Lifestyle Typologies With Qualitative Measures and Multiplicative Factoring," Journal of Marketing Research, (27) February, 1 1-23.

Postman, Neil, Christine Nystrom, Lance Strate and Charles Weingartner (1987), Myths, Men and Beer: An Analysis of Beer Commercials on Broadcast Television, 1987," AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety, Falls Church, VA.

United States Department of Health and Human Services (1988), Surgeon General's Workshop on Drunk Driving Proceedings, Washington D. C.