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Regulations Lag as Alcohol Firms Tap New Media to Reach Young Drinkers

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Adolescents are being bombarded with alcohol marketing online as firms exploit new-media tools and lax regulation to put their brand images and information in front of young drinkers, according to a new report.

HealthDay News reported May 19 that American University professor Kathryn Montgomery — author of the report, Alcohol Marketing in the Digital Age (PDF) — said that alcohol is being sold through “a multiplicity of platforms throughout the day and night that includes online, offline, mobile, digital, music, video — a whole range of different ways that consumers interact with new digital marketing.”

Researchers said that the Federal Trade Commission needs to investigate an advertising space where loose regulations — such as weak age-21 verification on websites — are contributing to youth exposure to alcohol marketing. “We're not calling for any kind of censorship, but we do think these are very serious issues that do require attention by regulators and public-health professionals,” Montgomery said.

Alcohol companies also are reaching out to consumers via social-networking platforms like Facebook, both directly and indirectly through consumers who are encouraged to tout their brands to others in the network. “There's a whole stealth world of marketing that occurs in social-media spaces,” said study co-author Jeff Chester of the Center for Digital Democracy. “It's a completely Wild West environment.”

Heineken has even created a virtual online city where visitors can create digital apartments, get free storage and e-mail, and earn points based on how long they stay on the site. Viral videos, like a Smirnoff clip promoting an alcoholic iced tea, are another marketing channel, as are messages delivered to mobile devices.

The Distilled Spirits Council responded to the report by saying that online and digital communications are primarily used by adults, “which makes these platforms responsible and appropriate channels for spirits marketers.”

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