College students are prime tartgets for advertising about clothes, electronics, clubs and even alcohol promotions. College students ranked drinking beer as their favorite activity in a recent survey taken by the Student Monitor spring 2005 Lifestyle and Media survey of 1,200 full-time undergraduates from 100 campuses.
Alcohol producers and distributors see college students as their most valuable consumers, said Kim Miller of the Center for Science in the Public Interest based in Washington D.C.
Universities around the nation and consumer watchdog groups, such as the Center for Higher Education, say the survey results are disconcerting. As alcohol advertisers continue to find new ways to tap the college market, these groups are concerned about underage drinking and excessive drinking on campus.
TCU students say alcohol advertisements and promotions have an effect on how college students view alcohol.
Meg Smith, a junior political science major, said she believes alcohol companies advertise directly to her as a college student.
“Advertisers are just so smart,” Smith said. “They always know exactly what I want to hear. Most alcohol ads make me really want to go out and have a good time.”
Miller, who works for the Alcohol Policies Project at the Center for Science in the Public Interest, said this type of direct advertising to college students is inappropriate and irresponsible. She said alcohol is known to cause health problems, academic difficulties and increased levels of crime.
“I understand there is a strong incentive for companies to target college students,” Miller said. “But they have no right to advertise to a group that is, for the majority, under age.”
Miller said companies should weigh the problems they could cause against their own profit.
TCU Police Chief Steve McGee said alcohol does cause students to do things they would not normally do, such as urinate in public. He said with alcohol consumption comes an increased risk of getting into trouble.
In 2004, 376 liquor-law violations were issued to TCU students, according to the TCU Police statistics.
Concerns like this have led the alcohol industry to place harsher limitations on itself. Alcohol companies are encouraged to only advertise to audiences in which 70 percent of the viewers are expected to be over the legal drinking age., according to www.discus.org.
Alcohol producers have expanded the drink responsibly ads, which promote safety.
Mike Wood, a professional in residence in advertising and public relations at TCU, said it is important that companies make responsible decisions when marketing to students, but it is even more important that consumers make responsible choices.
“It is not the company’s or the agency’s job to baby-sit the consumer,” Wood said. “Advertisers are going to try to make the product appeal to their target market, but they are not mind controllers. Students need to make their own decisions.”
The self-imposed restrictions do not mean alcohol producers are willing to give up their access to a highly profitable and crucial market. It means they have to find new ways to target students, Wood said.
He said advertising companies are most interested in product positioning when it comes to advertising alcohol to college students.
“When students think of beer, each company wants their brand name to pop into the students mind first,” Wood said.
Texadelphia, a restaurant located across the street from campus, offers beer specials every night of the week.
Coy Hawkins, Snookie’s Bar and Grill manager, said most nights they have specials that are geared toward the college crowd.
“Thursday nights we have $1.50 Miller High Life, and $3.50 long island iced teas,” Hawkins said. “And Sunday nights are $2 dollar you-call-its.”
Lewis Kinard, a senior entrepreneurial management major, and Harris Napier, a senior economics major, say promotions and drink specials are a highly effective way of bringing in the college crowd.
“I choose which bar I go to at night based on the beer specials,” Napier said.
Angela Taylor, director of the TCU Alcohol and Drug Education Center, said TCU students are surrounded by thousands of alcohol promotions and advertisements a day.
“At times I think it sends a mixed message,” Taylor said. “We spend so much time warning students of the consequences of drinking, and then they see the ads all around campus.”
Taylor said she doesn’t think the solution is to eliminate alcohol ads from campus as other universities have done but rather develop new programs educating students about making wise choices.
“We would not be doing the students a favor by protecting them from alcohol ads,” Taylor said. “They will be confronted with them eventually.”
Taylor said students are going to be confronted with pressure to drink sometime during their lives, it is better to be introduced to that pressure while they are in college, and there are people available to educate them about making positive decisions.