This week spirits producer Diageo (Smirnoff, Johnnie Walker, Baileys and Guinness amongst other brands) announced a multimillion-dollar deal with social network website Facebook. Diageo is confident this will boost their sales but health experts warn that the impact of this deal will be mainly felt in teenage drinking.
In their press release, Diageo states that the new deal will ‘drive unprecedented levels of integration and joint business planning and experimentation’ between the two companies. This statement also underscores the profit that Diageo has already received thanks to the collaboration with Facebook. According to the statement, their advertisements on the social network have led to a 20% increase in sales of five of their key brands in the US. Another figure given in the press release is that Diageo brand Smirnoff has become the number one beverage alcohol brand on Facebook worldwide.
According to Dr Nick Sheron however, the deal is a cause for great worry. The liver specialist at Southampton hospital, pointed out to the Guardian, that the attraction of Facebook is the youth of its users. Which is stated to be half under the age of 24 and many under the legal drinking age of 18.
Both Facebook and Diageo claim that placing mandatory age checks on the website has solved this problem. But according to Sheron and many others, the age checks are a farce.
“The age verification process for social networking sites is clearly completely ineffective – even though users are supposed to be 13 or above, it has been suggested that one-quarter of UK children aged 8-12 have a Facebook or similar account,” he told the Guardian.
Sheron also argues that most of these under age Facebook accounts are hidden from parents, which effectively gives Diageo “a private narrowcast channel of communication with young people, which it will use to promote alcohol use as a positive lifestyle.”
Linda Bauld, professor of social management at Stirling University, told the Guardian: “I think the primary problem is that there are no legislative restrictions on alcohol marketing at the moment, but we know that the industry has carefully and consistently marketed the product to young people. Many children use Facebook sites. By doing a deal between a multinational corporation that produces alcohol and a networking site, you are essentially marketing alcohol to children.”