Intended for healthcare professionals


YouTube videos promote positive images of alcohol, finds study

BMJ 2017; 358 doi: (Published 21 September 2017) Cite this as: BMJ 2017;358:j4365
  1. Susan Mayor
  1. London

YouTube videos featuring alcohol products that are popular with underage drinkers attract large numbers of viewers and often associate drinking with fun and attractive characters, a new study has found.1

Researchers analysed the content and use of 137 YouTube videos published between 2006 and 2013 that featured alcohol brands popular with underage drinkers, ranging from beer to vodka.

“Although many studies have investigated the effect of alcohol advertisements on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram, little research has been done on video sharing platforms such as YouTube,” wrote the researchers, led by Brian Primack, director of the University of Pittsburgh Center for Research on Media, Technology and Health.

They added, “Video sharing platforms can combine the compelling high production values of traditional visual media with influential peer-to-peer dialogue.”

Their results, reported in the Journal of Studies on Alcohol and Drugs, showed that the videos had been viewed nearly 97 million times in total, with a median of 116 650 views (interquartile range (IQR) 12 377 to 384 973) per video. They had a median number of “like” designations of 302 (IQR 44 to 1027) and 11 (IQR 2 to 81) “dislikes.”

There was no way of knowing the age of viewers, but the researchers pointed out that some of the fastest growing media exposure to alcohol advertising and information is internet based and that internet access is widely available to teenagers, with 92% reporting daily use in a recent study.

Just under half (40%) of the videos were traditional advertisements, while 20% were classified as guides, which showcased a particular alcohol product and offered serving suggestions, and 13% were primarily music related. Most of the videos had been uploaded by “ordinary” YouTube users and not by manufacturers.

“It didn’t seem to be that Bud Light was posting most of these,” said Primack. “It was usually someone who just liked the ad enough to post it.”

The vast majority (130 or 95%) of videos analysed in the study featured male characters, while 40% (55) featured female characters. Nearly half (65 or 47%) contained humour, and a third (42 or 31%) included attractive primary characters.

Primack said that companies intended their advertisements to be amusing or otherwise engaging, and he suggested that this might be in the hope that people would share them on social media.

Ten per cent of the videos featured a man “chugging” (gulping down) a full bottle of distilled spirits. “Impressionable youth viewing these videos may develop maladaptive attitudes regarding factors such as the immediate dangers of binge drinking,” the study authors cautioned.

“We’re not suggesting that young people should never see these videos or that parents say, ‘You’re never using the internet again,’” Primack said. Instead, he suggested that parents help their children be more savvy about alcohol advertising.

“The stark differences between the representation of alcohol brands on YouTube and true known clinical associations with alcohol use may provide an opportunity for educational interventions,” concluded the researchers.


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