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BizReport : Advertising archives : December 14, 2015

Social media exposing children to alcohol advertising

Industry self-regulation to prevent children from being exposed to alcohol advertising does not seem to be working, according to a new study out of Texas A&M University.

by Helen Leggatt

Children as young as 13 are being exposed to ads from the alcohol industry on a daily basis, according to the study. While this is not a legal issue, lead author Adam E Barry of Texas A&M University said that it is "unethical to intentionally expose underage persons to alcohol advertising".

The study focused on social media and found that, while Twitter implements an age-gate to block direct-to-phone updates to underage users, Instagram, popular among younger users, does not.

After creating Twitter and Instagram profiles for fictitious users with the ages of 13, 15, 17, 19 and 21, the researchers attempted to interact with alcohol ad content by retweeting, commenting or sharing posts or following 22 official alcohol brand Twitter and Instagram profiles. They found that all the profiles, regardless of age, could view and interact with the content.

However, while on Twitter the profiles with ages younger than 21 could not follow or receive promotional materials from alcohol brands, there were no such barriers on Instagram. In fact, during the course of the month-long study, all the profiles could follow alcohol brand accounts and received, on average, 362 related ads.

"All social media should at minimum implement age-gate technology as it is easy to use and directly aligns with the industry's stated desire to prevent underage youth from being exposed to alcohol advertising," said Barry.

Earlier this year, a study led by Dr. Michael Siegel of Boston University sought to measure the impact on underage children of alcohol brand advertising. They discovered that "Underage youth were more than five times more likely to consume brands that advertise on national television and 36% more likely to consume brands that advertise in national magazines".

However, this study was limited to print and television ads because, said the researchers, "there is currently no source that tracks youth exposure to brand-specific alcohol advertising through social media or the internet". Nonetheless, their study does show that underage children are affected by alcohol advertising and messaging and that more safeguards are needed to prevent exposure via mobile and social channels.

Image via Shutterstock

Tags: advertising, alcohol, brand marketing, research, social media

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