About 250 students, faculty and staff listened to debate on the morality and finances behind tobacco and alcohol marketing to youth at Tuesday evening’s American Forum.
The event, “Marketing Cool: The Buying of Young America,” drew a standing room-only crowd to Mary Graydon Center rooms 4 and 5.
“The truth is that advertisers spend billions of dollars per year to reach young people,” said Jane Hall, the School of Communication journalism professor who moderated the event. “Many commercials target young men and women, particularly commercials for alcohol and soda products.”
One of the panelists, Velma LaPoint, a psychoeducational studies professor at Howard University, discussed the specifics of how marketers target youths.
“Marketers are more likely to capitalize on the language and dress of young people,” said LaPoint, who has studied the impact of commercials on children. “The truth is, adolescence is a time of uneven development. ... People tend to dress a certain way and go after the same product.”
However, Radley Balko, a policy analyst at the libertarian Cato Institute, said that young adults are capable of making their own decisions, and did not support advertisement restrictions.
“We trust 18-year-olds to vote, drive cars ... Why can’t we trust them to see ads for alcohol and understand that they are not legally able to consume alcohol yet?” Balko asked.
Hall mentioned that some Super Bowl ads targeted young people and questioned the panelists on which their favorites were and why they were worth $2.4 million.
Jeff Wagner, who has worked in sports marketing for 30 years and now works for Comcast SportsNet, said Sunday’s Super Bowl was a “Janet Jackson backlash.”
“It was basically a commercial malfunction,” Wagner said, though he noted one ad that was a success.
“I did like Budweiser’s sky-diving ad ... It was fun and it had a message,” he said.
The ad showed men’s love for the beer when a sky-diving instructor used it in hopes of propelling a scared student out of the plane and the pilot jumped instead.
However, Julia Sherman, a former field director for the Center for Alochol Marketing and Youth and communications director for a program to reduce underage drinking, said that young people are not the primary viewers of the Super Bowl.
“The fact is that 12- to 20-year-olds represent about 12 to 20 percent of the population - that’s probably the percentage that watched the Super Bowl this Sunday,” Sherman said.
When answering a student’s question regarding product placement, panelist Matt Britton, the vice president of sales and marketing for Mr. Youth, a youth marketing company, referenced a “Friends” episode that revolved around a Pottery Barn product. The Pottery Barn table episode was probably the beginning of the product placement phenomenon, Britton said.
SOC sponsors four American Forums each semester. The American Forum was created in 1986. The forums are broadcast over public radio stations across the nation and C-SPAN. Tuesday’s American Forum will be broadcast of AU’s NPR affiliate, WAMU, on Thursday at 8 p.m. Tune to 88.5 FM or go to http://www.wamu.org.