Case for Change

Drinking is often portrayed in TV programmes, in songs and in music videos.

Research shows that young people can be harmed when exposed to alcohol being promoted in these popular media.

The placement of alcohol advertising alongside TV programmes that portray alcohol or drinking may be particularly harmful.

Alcohol portrayed in TV programmes and movies

Many young people and adults are exposed to the promotion of alcohol in TV and radio shows.

Adolescents exposed to drinking portrayed in movies, soap operas and music videos have been found to be more likely to take up drinking and drink more heavily.

  • One study found that, in a sample of 534 contemporary movies, 52% contained specific brands of alcohol.
  • When the content of the drama series 'The OC' was analysed, more than half of all drinking acts involved female characters, and that in one-third of the drinking instances adolescent characters were involved.

It is believed that harm can be created when adolescents positively identify with the media characters - when they believe they are similar to the character and wish to be like them [cited in this study].

In addition, it is thought that advertising, together with alcohol portrayals in programming, may be especially dangerous. Product placements by media characters may have more impact than traditional forms of advertising. This strategy of embedding advertisements in a movie context with appealing actors may be more powerful as viewers are not consciously processing the intentions of the message.

Alcohol portrayed in songs and music videos

Music videos and songs are popular among young people, but present many risks in terms of alcohol exposure.


A study in the United States found that 23% of 700+ popular songs (between 2009 and 2011) included lyrics that mentioned alcohol and 6% (46 songs) mentioned an alcohol brand. Songs classified as 'Urban' had the highest mentions (38%) of alcohol and alcohol brands, followed by Country music (22%).

The authors of the study noted that only a  select few brands were heavily mentioned in song lyrics. When these brands were mentioned in song lyrics, the context was often positive and there was no depiction of the negative consequences of alcohol use. Rather, music portrayed the following images of alcohol use:

  • heavy alcohol use leading to sex or enticing women to have sex;
  • encouragement of intoxication;
  • encouragement of underage drinking.


Many young people may watch hours of music videos. A recent study of the impact of music videos found that connectedness to music videos, and not overall amount of viewing, was the main factor which influenced positive beliefs of consuming alcohol among adolescents. The authors warned that whilst interventions that warn youths about the presence of substances in music videos may minimise their influence, young people who are highly connected with the music video content may be especially resistant to warnings.

Alcohol use may also be linked to portrayals of violence in music videos. In a New Zealand study, over a third of music videos (39% of 861 videos) portrayed at least one violence-related theme. Violence portrayal was significantly more common in videos that also portrayed alcohol use.