The alcohol industry targets children and youth with their aggressive alcohol marketing. Minors get alcohol ads to smartphones.
Children and youth may be inundated with alcohol advertising on a daily basis, in a conscious move by the alcohol industry using social media. While Twitter has an age-gate which blocks direct-to-phone updates for underage users, Instagram does not, according to a new study.
The study entitled “Alcohol Marketing on Twitter and Instagram: Evidence of Directly Advertising to Youth/Adolescents” was conducted by Adam E. Barry, et. al. and was published in November in the scientific journal Alcohol and Alcoholism.
Based on the results of the new study on Twitter and Instagram, the industry is not adhering to this self-regulation guidance, Barry said.
The alcohol industry lobby front group Distilled Spirits Council of the United States (DISCUS) – representing Big Alcohol giants such as Diageo, Bacardi USA, and Pernod Ricard USA – had issued a self-regulation guidance note asserting that digital marketing communications are intended for adults of legal purchase age and should be placed only in media where at least 71.6 percent of the audience is reasonably expected to be of legal age, and brand advertiser pages should require age affirmation by the user before full interaction begins. The lead researcher Adam E. Barry said:
While it is not illegal to expose underage young persons to alcohol advertising/promotions, I believe it is unethical to intentionally expose underage persons to alcohol advertising given alcohol advertising influences the likelihood of whether or not a young person will initiate alcohol use, as well as how much existing [users] consume.”
The researchers set up 10 Twitter and 10 Instagram profiles for fictitious users ages 13, 15, 17, 19 or 21. Using these, the researchers tried to interact with alcohol advertising content by attempting to retweet, comment or share alcohol industry posts or follow the official Instagram and Twitter profiles for 22 alcohol brands for one month.
On Twitter, profiles made for kids under age 21 could not follow or receive promotional material from alcohol brands. But two profiles for users age 21 or over received almost 2,000 alcohol related tweets, collectively, over one month.
There was no age-gate for Instagram, and all underage profiles could follow alcohol brand accounts and received on average 362 advertisements during the study. Promotional updates were most frequent on Thursdays and Fridays. Alcohol brand Instagram accounts responded directly to underage user comments.
During the month-long study, all of the underage profiles were followed by alcohol advertisers, representatives or enthusiasts outside of the 22 alcohol brands included in the original group.
Even though Twitter prevented youth from following alcohol brands, there was unfettered access to viewing, interacting with, and sharing posted content on Twitter.
What our findings show is that youth who follow alcohol brands on Instagram are being bombarded, daily, with alcohol advertising/promotions directly to their phones.