The Center for Digital Democracy and the Berkeley Media Studies Group have released a report, “Alcohol Marketing in the Digital Age,” that discusses some of the specific ways that alcohol beverage companies are conducting contemporary advertising campaigns using digital media, data collection, behavioral targeting, social media, and online gaming and video that allegedly appeal to underage youth. The report, which was reportedly submitted to the Federal Trade Commission (FTC), calls on that agency, as well as the state attorneys general, to “investigate the data collection, online profiling, and targeting practices of alcohol beverage companies online, including social media data-mining technologies. The FTC and other regulators need to determine whether alcohol beverage ad targeting is reaching specific young people and their networks.”
While the report notes that beer and alcohol companies have “a self-regulatory code of ethics that includes provisions for limiting exposure to marketing messages to underage youth,” its authors contend that age restrictions and verifications are “not only inadequate but increasingly irrelevant.” They suggest that a simple math calculation allows anyone under the legal drinking age to circumvent Internet mechanisms relying on birth dates alone to bar entrance.
Among other proposals in the report are for the FTC to (i) collect and publish information about what alcohol companies are spending on social media marketing, “a simple extension of what the commission is already doing regarding tobacco marketing expenditures”; (ii) investigate “neuromarketing-related techniques designed to influence or measure subconscious responses”; and (iii) investigate whether age-verification mechanisms are working. The report calls on the alcohol industry to strengthen its self-regulatory codes “to explicitly ban the collection of psychographic information on underage users of any Web site, whether controlled by alcohol marketers or not,” and publish annual “transparency reports” about their digital marketing.
The Distilled Spirits Council reportedly issued a statement refusing to comment on a report that had not been read, but stating “the spirits industry’s longstanding commitment to responsible advertising regardless of the medium has been commended by the FTC and industry watchdogs.” The Beer Institute was quoted as saying that beer companies “are adamantly opposed to illegal underage drinking and alcohol abuse. Our members direct their advertising to adults of legal drinking age in accordance with the Beer Institute’s Advertising and Marketing Code.” See MediaPostNews Online and Broadcasting & Cable, May 17, 2010; Congress Daily/ National Journal, May 18, 2010.