Alcohol Marketers Embrace Digital, Raising Risk of Youth Exposure

While alcohol marketers have agreed to voluntary, self-imposed limits to avoid advertising to underage people, many of the same brands are building digital followings that may include children and teenagers, according to the Center on Alcohol Marketing and Youth at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health.

Although CAMY did not claim that marketers are deliberately targeting younger consumers online, the youthful skew of the Internet audience and the appeal of certain beverages in this demographic makes it more likely that this is the case.

Noting the success of digital-marketing efforts for alcohol brands, CAMY found that 10 leading alcohol brands have more than 16.5 million people "liking" their Facebook brand pages. fans of 10 brands known to appeal to youth had uploaded 15,416 user-generated photos of themselves to the brand pages. Pictures uploaded to the Facebook pages included images of Santa, toys and sexually suggestive photos, violating the voluntary marketing standards agreed to by the industry.

While none of this proves that marketers are trying to target youth, CAMY noted that youth are disproportionately represented on Facebook. While 13- to-20-year-olds make up 13.6% of the general population, they represent 22% of Facebook users.

Separate studies have recently found that a large proportion of 12-year-olds evade the age limit on Facebook by lying about their age -- often with the help of their parents. CAMY also tested the social media “age affirmation” technology that is intended to prevent exposure of alcohol marketing to underage youth, but found these measures “essentially meaningless."

The influence of alcohol ads on youth may be especially insidious since they are increasingly disguised as entertainment content. Here the CAMY report quoted Jeff Chester, the executive director of the Center for Digital Democracy, who warned: “The alcohol industry's digital and social media tactics are blurring the boundaries between advertising and content with unprecedented sophistication.”

Marketers have been inconsistent in their attempts to cut back alcohol marketing to youth in traditional media, with some media showing greater reductions than others. From 2001-2009, the average exposure of underage readers to alcohol ads in print magazines fell sharply, from about 15,000 gross ratings points to just 8,000, according to CAMY.

But over the same period, youth exposure to alcohol ads in TV soared 71%, due to increased advertising for distilled spirits on cable TV. Thus, the average number of TV ads seen by youth increased from 217 in 2001 to 366 in 2009. In fact, youth exposure to TV ads for alcohol increased more rapidly than exposure for adults 21 and over during the same period.

4 comments about "Alcohol Marketers Embrace Digital, Raising Risk of Youth Exposure".
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  1. William James from Journal Media Group, December 20, 2011 at 9:19 a.m.

    I think marketing to a specific age demographic does not induce the likelihood of creating an underage drinker. I learned everything I know about alcohol from my parents not the television. Since television came in to main stream households in the early 50s and 60s I am sure that my parents learned it from their parents and not television.

  2. Paula Lynn from Who Else Unlimited, December 20, 2011 at 2:11 p.m.

    The purpose of advertising is to influence and to influence strongly above and beyond of what parents, teachers or any other leadership says.

  3. Phil G from independent, December 20, 2011 at 3:17 p.m.

    Why are you giving a platform to a lot of alarmist Prohibitionist BS?

    Just because 12 year olds get their parents to approve them joining facebook as 13 year olds doesnt mean that underage people are changing their age to get thru age gated materials on Facebook. They've always been able to do this on website but it's significantly harder on Facebook with many more social implications.

    The efforts being done online are often squarely aimed at the under 25 demo because that is the age preferences for beer brands and many other types of drinks become fairly well established. And yes a 16yr old may find the same thing appealing as a 25yr old. But so may a 30yr old. Correlation is not causality.

  4. John Grono from GAP Research, December 20, 2011 at 5:48 p.m.

    Apparently around 80% of the 16.5m were drunk when they clicked on the 'Like' button ... hehehe.

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