Advertisements of scantily clad women and hunks chilling out on a hot summer day with a nice cold bottle of beer may be aimed at young adults, but they're also having an impact on teens, and boosting their urge to drink.
The finding is based on a study conducted by researchers at the University of Florida and University of Florida who found that adolescents attending schools in neighbourhoods where alcohol ads litter the landscape tend to want to drink more and, compared with other children, have more positive views of alcohol.
As a part of their study the researchers counted the number of alcohol ads within a two-block radius of 63 Chicago schools and compared students' opinions on drinking when they were in sixth grade and again two years later.
They found that the more ads for alcohol there were in a neighbourhood, the more students were interested in drinking alcohol.
What's more, is the fact that the majority of the ads were only brand information, which are not thought to be as powerful.
"The majority of the ads were just brand information only. Sometimes we think that those as are not so powerful, but the majority of the ads we found were those kinds of ads and still we found the association with increased intentions to use alcohol," said UF epidemiologist Kelli A. Komro, Ph.D.
Teens who start drinking early at around the age of 15 are more likely to have trouble in school, become addicted to alcohol, smoke cigarettes and use drugs than adolescents who don't drink.
Prior research has shown that adolescents' intentions and attitudes about alcohol generally predict their later behaviour.
To gauge students' thoughts on drinking, the researchers asked them a series of questions, such as whether they planned on drinking in high school or if they thought drinking made teens popular.
By eighth grade when they are in the age group of 13 to 14 years, the students who attended schools with more alcohol advertising in the surrounding neighbourhood had more intentions to drink alcohol and gave fewer reasons for not drinking when researchers surveyed them, the study shows.
The ads also seemed to have the same effect on teens who were already drinking in sixth grade i.e. at the age of 11 to 12 years, and those who had not yet imbibed.
"A lot of times advertisers say ads are targeted to people who are already drinking, so we looked at kids who were already drinking in sixth grade and kids who were not. Among those kids who were not drinking, we still found the association between exposure to the outdoor ads and increased intentions to use alcohol. The ads are working even for the kids who are not drinking," said Komro.
Ads like these influence children by changing their perceptions of what is normal, said Steven Thomsen, Ph.D., a professor of communication at Brigham Young University who studies the effects of advertising on children.
"The importance of this (study) is they determined that these messages have an impact on normative beliefs, which are the assumptions we make about how the world works. It doesn't have to be a (TV) commercial (to be effective)," Thomsen said.
The study is published in the June issue of the Journal of Studies on Alcohol and Drugs.