This qualitative assessment of popular music finds that alcohol is frequently referenced in popular music, and that when it is referenced a brand name is supplied about 25% of the time. This represents about 3.4 alcohol brand appearances per song-hour (31
). Given that the average adolescent is exposed to about 2.5 hours of popular music per day (32
), he or she will be substantially exposed to alcohol brand references in popular music on an annual basis. Furthermore, specific brand names mentioned are frequently luxury distilled spirits brands and are associated with a lifestyle characterised by degrading sexual activity, wealth, partying, and violence. Branded alcohol references were most common in Rap and R&B/Hip-Hop.
Frequent exposure of young people to brand-name references in popular music is of concern. Brand recognition is an independent and potent risk factor for the initiation and maintenance of substance use among adolescents (22
), and references to alcohol brand-names in popular music may be particularly potent because they combine the persuasive appeal of advertising with the narrative appeal of an embedded and naturalistic representation of alcohol. This study suggests that brand-name references to alcohol are strongly associated with positive feelings and associations, which are often the goal of advertisements. Moreover, the brands found in music represent the same distilled spirits brands that are increasingly named as favorites by underage drinkers, especially females (47
The relatively high level of brand-name appearances related to alcohol may be because of strengthening ties between the alcohol and music industries (). An early example of alcohol advertising in the music industry involved the campaign launched by St. Ides Malt Liquor in the early 1990s, featuring TV and radio spots that showcased major rap artists, including 2Pac, Ice Cube, and Dr. Dre. While advertisers continue to engage in such traditional advertising ventures, many companies have turned to less traditional methods, including sponsoring music tours or hosting events in clubs (48
). Alcohol companies have also more formally entered the music industry; from 1995 to 2001 alcohol industry giant Seagram’s acquired Universal and Polygram Records, merging the two labels to form the world’s largest music conglomerate. Though Seagram’s sold the label in 2001, the two companies maintained the synergistic marketing relationship they had established while jointly owned, continuing to sponsor music tours and use individual artists in their promotions. Finally, individual artists, particularly those in the rap and hip hop community, have begun to establish and promote their own alcohol lines, including Lil’ Jon (Little Jonathan Wineries, 2008), Ludacris (Conjure Vodka, 2009), Jay-Z (Armadale Vodka, 2002), Snoop Dogg (Landy Cognac, 2008), TI (Remy Martin Cognac, 2010) and Sean “P Diddy” Combs (Ciroc Vodka, 2001) (49
). The fact that these artists primarily represent Rap and R&B/Hip-Hop labels may explain the preponderance of branded alcohol references in these two genres ().
Historical perspective on major formal relationships between the alcohol and popular music industries.
Most instances of brand-name references in song lyrics seem to be unsolicited and unpaid for by advertising companies. However, the line between paid advertising and brand references as an artistic choice has become difficult to distinguish, as advertising companies have begun to retroactively reward artists with product, sponsorship, or endorsement deals after a song containing their product’s name becomes popular. An example of retroactive paid product placement is Busta Rhymes and P. Diddy’s 2002 hit “Pass the Courvoisier.” Following the song’s release, the cognac’s sales jumped 18.9%, and Courvoisier’s parent company, France’s Allied Domecq, reached a lucrative promotional deal with Busta and P. Diddy’s management company, Violator (54
Although rap and hip-hop music are popular among youth of all races (32
), these genres still seem to be most heavily preferred by African-Americans in the U.S. For example, it is estimated that about 30-40% of those who purchase rap music are African-American (55
), while African-Americans comprise only about 13% of the U.S. population (56
). Our finding that alcohol brand references are most prominent in Rap and R&B/Hip-Hop () suggests, therefore, that African-Americans are heavily exposed to these potentially influential messages. This exposure may be a potentially changeable source of the substantial alcohol-related health disparities between African-Americans and Caucasians (57
). However, it is not entirely clear whether African-Americans are indeed exposed to increased rap and/or hip-hop music compared with Caucasians, in part because Nielsen data have not systematically examined racial makeup of popular music audiences (55
). Therefore, it would be valuable for future work to confirm whether African-Americans are disproportionately exposed to alcohol brand references and to examine the potential influence of these messages.
Compared with unbranded references to alcohol, branded references were more commonly associated with positive social consequences, positive sexual consequences, and negative legal consequences. However these associations are likely related to the fact that branded references were commonly associated with Rap and R&B/Hip-Hop genres, which commonly portray idealised social and sexual situations as well as confrontation with police (31
Organizations of alcohol producers, such as The Distilled Spirits Council of the United States (DISCUS), have developed self-regulating codes regarding appropriate marketing practices (59
). One of these guidelines states that it is unethical to target marketing to audiences below legal drinking age (59
). However, Rap music is usually found to be a favorite type of music among high school students (60
). Therefore, it is probable that campaigns which center upon Rap artists are not in compliance with these guidelines. It may be valuable for future analyses to specifically address whether marketing campaigns associated with popular music, such as Rap and Hip-Hop, are consistent with marketing guidelines established by the industry.
One limitation of any qualitative methodology is that interpretation and bias introduced by the researcher poses a threat to internal consistency (43
). We sought to minimize this by using a team of two researchers to independently code the data, comparing their responses with reliability scores, and involving a third researcher in all discussions related to codebook development. Another limitation of this analysis is that we only assessed songs from 2005-2007. Because of recent announcements of newly-forming relationships between the music and alcohol industries (49
), it may be valuable to revisit these analyses in upcoming years. Finally, we coded songs deemed to be the most popular among US adolescents. Thus, although music popular in the US is likely to be roughly similar to that in other parts of the world, these findings may not be generalisable to those in other nations.
This study demonstrates when alcohol is referenced in popular music—which occurs in about 20% of songs—a brand name is supplied about 25% of the time. Furthermore, we found that brand-name references were commonly associated with a lifestyle often characterised by degrading sexual activity, wealth, partying, and violence. Because both brand recognition and positively-portrayed substance use are powerful predictors of adolescent substance use, it may be important to assess the associations between brand-name alcohol references in popular music with clinically-relevant alcohol use outcomes.