Teens are likely being exposed to a lot of alcohol advertising online, says the Director of the Center on Alcohol Marketing and Youth at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health. David Jernigan says alcohol companies’ voluntary limits on print, television and radio ads are often ignored on social media websites.
Jernigan, who conducted a recent review of alcohol ads and social media, cites examples such as a beer bottle that was lit up like a Christmas tree on one Facebook page, and accompanied by stuffed animals in another. He also points to the video on YouTube that featured cartoon characters using alcohol to reduce stress.
“We tried to get a sense of everything the companies are doing on Facebook, YouTube, Twitter, Flickr and iPhone apps and it’s amazing how much they’re doing,” Jernigan told The Baltimore Sun. “It’s far more than I think most parents or adults are aware of. It’s the wild west without a sheriff.”
The Distilled Spirits Council has issued social media marketing guidelines that include “age-gating” before direct dialogue between advertisers and consumers, and visible instructions urging individuals to forward downloadable digital content only to adults 21 and older. In a statement, the group said, “Social networking sites are used primarily by adults, which makes these platforms responsible and appropriate channels for spirits marketers.”
Jernigan notes it is not possible to determine how many teens are seeing, or responding to, the alcohol marketing. But since an estimated 22 percent of Facebook users are ages 13 to 20, he concludes, “it’s probably a lot.”
He called for tighter controls on content, more parental involvement and better technology to limit underage access.