The US Federal Trade Commission last week released its fourth study of self-regulation in the alcohol industry. This was the first time the alcohol industry was asked to give up data on their expenditure and reach concerning online alcohol marketing. According to the FTC report the US alcohol industry has a high compliance to their own codes, to reduce underage exposure to alcohol marketing. Yet, the report does offer a number of recommendations to further protect youth from exposure.
The Federal Trade Commission has been studying alcohol advertising and youth exposure since 1999. This fourth study was based on information provided by 14 major beer and distilled spirits companies representing 1.679 brands and varieties over the year 2011. During this year a total of $3.45 billion (€2.5 billion) was spent in marketing and advertising expenditures.
Since the last study looked at the year 2008, this was the first research to take into account digital marketing since it’s exploded through social media, smart phones and company websites. According to the new report despite digital representing merely 7.9 percent of total expenditures, it was a 400% increase from 2 percent in 2008.
Two percent of the digital expenditure was spent across 461 company owned Websites and operated sites like Facebook. Facebook was the most-used operated site, followed by Twitter and YouTube. More than 5 percent of digital spending was spent for campaigns placed on other Websites; less than 1 percent was placed on mobile, email, or apps. In 2011, 99.5% of ads placed on sites owned by others met the industry’s own 70% 21-and-over standard.
Among the recommendations of the report are the following:
-When placement compliance levels fall below 90% due to fluctuations in the make-up of the audience, companies should consider using a higher audience composition threshold.
-Demographics for radio audiences used to measure only 12 and older, but now go as low as 6. Companies should use this more comprehensive data when making placements.
-Companies should take advantage of age-gating technologies offered by social media, including YouTube. Age gates on company websites should require the entry of a birthdate and not just a certification that the visitor is over 21.
-For user-generated content, companies should watch what’s going on and use blocking content to reduce the potential for violations of industry advertising and marketing codes.
In an earlier statement Sarah Mart of US alcohol watchdog Alcohol Justice said: “The industry says its self-regulating but it’s ineffective and social media opens up a whole new set of problems because their ads are everywhere.” When it got known that the findings of the report would not lead to statuatory restrictions health advocates reacted disappointed. David Jernigan of Johns Hopkins University told REUTERS that Facebook and other interactive platforms are poorly monitored and not well age protected: “Anyone can say they’re 21 and click yes.”