Underage youth exposed to alcohol advertising through social media

December 23, 2013
Evan Williams. Credit: Thomas Hawk via Flickr

Researchers from RAND Europe and the University of Cambridge investigated the marketing campaigns of five alcohol companies – Fosters, Magners, Carling, Stella Artois and Tia Maria – to assess their use of social media websites for advertising. The researchers tried to determine whether children and young adults could be exposed to these campaigns.

All five brands maintained Facebook, YouTube and Twitter accounts, connecting them to consumers. While all five of the brands did have age restrictions in place on Facebook, prohibiting individuals under the age of 18 from accessing the companies' pages, no such age limitations exist on YouTube.

Only two of the brands – Carling and Stella Artois – had age-related restrictions in place for their Twitter pages. Warning messages about age requirements were used by several of the brands on YouTube and Twitter accounts; however, these messages did not prevent access to the pages.

Researchers point out that users could lie about their age when setting up an account on Facebook and YouTube, although the real-world peer relationships facilitated through the sites encourage use of genuine data; but, while Facebook uses age-related information to block access, YouTube doesn't.

"The main difference between Facebook and YouTube was that even if you were logged in as an underage person on YouTube, you could still access the pages, whereas you couldn't on Facebook," said Eleanor Winpenny, a co-author of the study from RAND Europe, who also pointed out that you don't need to be logged in to YouTube to be exposed to the majority of such advertising.

In the study, recently published in the journal Alcohol and Alcoholism, the researchers conclude that the rise in of alcohol coupled with the high use of social media by young people suggest that this is an area requiring further regulation.

"Whether deliberate or not, our results show that children are not protected from online marketing of alcohol," said Professor Theresa Marteau, Director of Cambridge's Behaviour and Health Research Unit, a study co-author.

"Existing evidence, based on more traditional marketing, would suggest that online marketing of alcohol will be contributing to under-age drinking."

Ninety percent of 15- to 24-year-olds and 43.5% of 6- to 14-year-olds who use the internet are currently using these social networking sites. While the researchers could not determine what proportion of viewership and followers of these brands' accounts were underage, the high use of these sites by children and teenagers suggests that a significant proportion could be from this population.

According to the UK Code of Non-broadcast Advertising, Sales Promotion and Direct Marketing (CAP Code), any media which has 25% or more of its users below 18 years of age, should not be used to promote alcohol. With such a high percentage of children accessing these sites, the results from this study suggest that either the CAP Code is not being followed, or these guidelines are not strict enough.

Alcohol advertisements on the social networking sites included promotional videos, recipes, games and competitions. The study showed that fans of the products engaged with the sites via 'Likes', this in turn linked the users' profiles with the brands'. Fans were also able to subscribe or follow the accounts, and actively engage with the brands' pages via comments and mentions.

Professor Marteau said that it is the interactive nature of these adverts which may make them more effective than standard advertising: "interacting with material increases its impact over passive processing of more traditional marketing."

Explore further: US, EU alcohol marketers adopt new code of conduct

More information: Eleanor M. Winpenny, Theresa M. Marteau, and Ellen Nolte. "Exposure of Children and Adolescents to Alcohol Marketing on Social Media Websites." Alcohol and Alcoholism, first published online November 28, 2013 DOI: 10.1093/alcalc/agt174

Related Stories

US, EU alcohol marketers adopt new code of conduct

September 30, 2011
Leading distillers in the United States and Europe on Friday will enact new social media marketing guidelines they said would promote responsible drinking.

Would you 'Like' a drink? Youth drinking cultures, social networking and alcohol marketing

May 10, 2013
Preventing alcohol abuse, especially among young people, has long been a focus of public-health campaigns. But despite the well-publicised social and medical consequences of drinking too much it's clear that for many, heavy ...

Underage youth drinking concentrated among small number of brands

February 11, 2013
A relatively small number of alcohol brands dominate underage youth alcohol consumption, according to a new report from researchers at the Boston University School of Public Health and the Center on Alcohol Marketing and ...

Experts call for football alcohol advertising restrictions

September 11, 2013
Newcastle University academics have called for the Government to consider restricting alcohol marketing during televised football matches after studying a selection of games and finding they were 'bombarded' by refereneces ...

British children more exposed to alcohol promotion than adults: Experts call for urgent changes

March 1, 2013
Children in Britain are more exposed to alcohol promotion than adults and need much stronger protection, warn experts on BMJ website today.

Recommended for you

Blowing smoke? E-cigarettes might help smokers quit

July 26, 2017
People who used e-cigarettes were more likely to kick the habit than those who didn't, a new study found.

Brain disease seen in most football players in large report

July 25, 2017
Research on 202 former football players found evidence of a brain disease linked to repeated head blows in nearly all of them, from athletes in the National Football League, college and even high school.

Safety of medical devices not often evaluated by sex, age, or race

July 25, 2017
Researchers at Yale and the University of California-San Francisco have found that few medical devices are analyzed to consider the influence of their users' sex, age, or race on safety and effectiveness.

Why you should consider more than looks when choosing a fitness tracker

July 25, 2017
A UNSW study of five popular physical activity monitors, including Fitbit and Jawbone models, has found their accuracy differs with the speed of activity, and where they are worn.

Dog walking could be key to ensuring activity in later life

July 24, 2017
A new study has shown that regularly walking a dog boosts levels of physical activity in older people, especially during the winter.

Study finds 275,000 calls to poison control centers for dietary supplement exposures from 2000 through 2012

July 24, 2017
U.S. Poison Control Centers receive a call every 24 minutes, on average, regarding dietary supplement exposures, according to a new study from the Center for Injury Research and Policy and the Central Ohio Poison Center, ...

0 comments

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.