It’s probably no surprise to anyone that media exposure to alcohol increases the likelihood of indulging in alcohol. The point of advertising is that people are more likely to purchase the product, not just in the specific sense of that brand, but in the more generic sense. That’s the rationale behind banning the advertising of cigarettes – a ban that has had a measurable, if small impact, on the number of people smoking. But, YouTube is like the Wild West of media exposure and that raises a lot of new questions.
On the most superficial level, what kind of exposure do you get from YouTube? The good PSA kind of exposure, or terrible The Hangover Part II kind? of influence1
And so researchers at the University of Pittsburgh decided to conduct a rigorous longitudinal study that could answer those basic questions. That study, titled “In the YouTube universe, Alcohol is Funny, Drinkers are Attractive, Consequences Minimal”, entailed collecting the 70 most popular videos on YouTube that related to alcohol intoxication and codifying them into a detailed schema. Was the video a positive portrayal, was it humorous, how old were the people in the video, what kind of liquor did they drink.
Shockingly, the results are pretty much what you’d expect. Dr. Brian A. Primack, one of the study’s coordinators explains:
“They tended to involve males more than females, and almost half (44%) referred to a specific brand name of alcohol. While active intoxication was frequently shown (86%), only a few (7%) referred to alcohol dependence or withdrawal. There were more ‘likes’ when humor was present versus when it was not, and more ‘positive sentiment’ when a brand name was mentioned, when liquor was mentioned, and when there was ‘attractiveness’ present. However, there was less positive sentiment when negative emotional or physical consequences from alcohol use were shown.”
So, videos were more popular when they were funny, full of attractive people, and no real life consequences were shown. Exactly the kind of media created by the multi-billion dollar advertising industry. But this isn’t advertising. These are real people who mention actual brand names in videos they are making that are emphatically not ads. Which raises some really important questions about how to counter that message. Which we hope is stage two of the study, because it seems like this one was pretty much just focusing on figuring out what information people were seeing about liquor on YouTube.2
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