Chat with us, powered by LiveChat
Select Page

In the world of alcohol marketing, gender stereotypes are rampant. In fact, until more recently, men were typically the only ones seen drinking alcoholic beverages in advertisements, while women were mainly portrayed as objects. For a culture that has long viewed drinking as a manly endeavor, the subject of women and alcohol has confounded the advertising industry. But over time, they have found ways to target the female drinker.

The History of the Hard Sell

Looking back on a century of advertising imagery, there is a clear evolution of the woman’s role pertaining to alcohol. In the early 1990s, many advertisements were abstract or minimalist, with flirty female vignettes bursting their way onto the page through the 1910s and ‘20s.[1] By the ‘30s and ‘40s, women had a more central role in the ads, but usually only to serve drinks at parties or to their husbands.[2] Recognizing that sex sells, advertisers in the 1950s replaced these domestic wives with scantily clad vixens, often leaning down to serve alcohol to men.[3]

The 1960s brought women’s liberation to the table, and along with it, a rise of feminist alcohol ads that put women front and center. They were encouraged to believe they could be and do anything – with the help of alcohol.[4] That theme followed through to the ‘70s, with many alcohol ads featuring the independent woman, drink in hand, seemingly succeeding in life without a man.[5] Since the start, alcohol ads promised sex to men, but in the ‘80s, they started promising that to women as well, along with romance and companionship.[6] They also started painting women drinkers as sexy, fun-loving and the life of the party; a portrayal that persisted into the new millennium.

Targeting Today’s Woman Drinker

There’s no denying that men have historically consumed more alcohol than women, but the gap started shrinking in the 2000s, as evidenced by a recent study conducted by the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism.[7]While it’s unlikely this was solely an effect of advertising, the industry certainly took notice. Companies recognized that women make up a large of percentage of the alcohol-drinking world and they could tap a substantial source of revenue by speaking to them more directly. So, how are they getting the attention of women these days?

For Females Only

Before marketing their products, companies in the alcohol industry actually changed their products to attract women. From pink, cotton-candy-flavored vodka to Skinnygirl® margaritas and chocolate wine, “girly” drinks are flooding the market, touting sweeter flavors and fewer calories. Big sellers like Girls’ Night Out wine deliver a message of camaraderie and empowerment urging the ladies to “let go of our inhibitions and allow ourselves to be who we truly are. Smart, confident, beautiful and everything in between.”

Whereas men tend to get together for some beers, women are thought to enjoy more feminine choices like wine and fruity cocktails. The widely held belief that women drink clear liquor while men drink the darker variety is also reflected in alcohol advertising. The SKYY brand even became the official vodka for the “Sex and the City” movies, and the television series itself introduced a new generation of women drinkers to the fabulous Cosmopolitan cocktail. Women’s magazines often promote these stereotypical drinking habits as well, as seen in a recent Cosmopolitan article “Girly Drinks We’re Not Ashamed to Love.” A list of 13 alcohol brands exclusively popular among women was full of vodka brands and wines.[8]

photo of people holding colorful mixed alcohol drinks

A Well-Deserved Reward

In marketing and advertising today, women are often shown drinking to cope with daily stress. According to Mommy’s Time Out wine, ‘We All know that being a Mommy is a difficult job. A Mommy’s Time Out is a well-deserved break.” Mad Housewife wine, which boasts the tagline “What’s domestic bliss without a little wine?” recently offered a six-pack called Mommy’s Little Helper as part of a Mother’s Day promotion. Similarly, Coors Light recently sharpened its pitch to female beer drinkers with a campaign called “Climb On,” which encourages them to celebrate the figurative mountains they climb with a cold, refreshing Coors Light.

photo of smiling young woman holding a tropical mixed drink

Enticing Younger Women

Many of the concepts and imagery in alcohol ads serve to attract younger women as well – and it’s working. A review by the Alcohol and Education Research Council (AERC) found that exposure to TV and magazine alcohol advertisements leads to increased underage alcohol consumption.[9] One way companies target younger females is by promoting low-calorie or “fitness-friendly” options. Budweiser Select is marketed as “the lightest beer in the world” with only 55 calories. A cocktail of Bacardi and diet cola boasts 0 carbs, 0 sugar. Michelob Ultra, with the slogan “Sleek. Slim. Sophisticated.” is the right choice “when you go running.” This is especially effective messaging for those affected by “drinkorexia;” the new phenomenon where young women are starving themselves to save calories for drinking.

Social Media

In marketing and advertising today, women are often shown drinking to cope with daily stress. According to Mommy’s Time Out wine, ‘We All know that being a Mommy is a difficult job. A Mommy’s Time Out is a well-deserved break.” Mad Housewife wine, which boasts the tagline “What’s domestic bliss without a little wine?” recently offered a six-pack called Mommy’s Little Helper as part of a Mother’s Day promotion. Similarly, Coors Light recently sharpened its pitch to female beer drinkers with a campaign called “Climb On,” which encourages them to celebrate the figurative mountains they climb with a cold, refreshing Coors Light.

The Dangers of Normalizing Drinking with Advertising

The rise in alcohol consumption among women is not entirely the result of successful advertising. In fact, a recent study by the University of Texas at Austin suggests they have minimal effect on the amount of wine, beer or liquor people consume.[11] But the ads have played a role in creating a culture that sees heavy drinking by females as funny or cool, and more importantly, they’ve helped to normalize female drinking.

“It’s a fact that women still face greater risks from alcohol abuse than men.”

This kind of targeted promotion of alcohol can be damaging because the negative aspects of heavy drinking are not addressed. It’s a fact that women still face greater risks from alcohol abuse than men. According to studies at Harvard Medical School, body fat, enzymes and hormones make women more vulnerable to alcohol than men, which can lead to a number of issues, including, liver disease, high blood pressure, infertility and brain damage.  Unfortunately, as long as the alcohol manufacturers see even a remote chance of boosting revenue, they’ll continue promoting their products in the way that suits them best.

If alcohol is having a negative effect in your life, either for yourself or a loved one, the professionals at Behavioral Wellness and recovery can help. Offering specialized care in substance abuse, mental health and dual diagnosis, we can help those struggling with alcoholism achieve a real, lasting recovery. Call 800-683-4457 today for more information.