Carolyn Crist

 September 28, 2017

(Reuters Health) – YouTube videos that depict alcohol brands favored by youth draw millions of views, making them a form of promotion that could encourage underage drinkers, according to a U.S. study.

The videos often resemble traditional ads but may escape public health notice or parental controls, the study authors write in the Journal of Studies on Alcohol and Drugs.

“YouTube has become one of the largest video-sharing platforms but often goes under the radar in studies,” said lead author Dr. Brian Primack of the University of Pittsburgh in Pennsylvania.


“Brands are extremely important when it comes to youth and alcohol consumption,” he told Reuters Health in a telephone interview. “Sometimes the key transition occurs when a young person is more susceptible to branding.”

Primack and colleagues looked for videos with brands that are popular among underage drinkers and appear in pop culture, specifically Bud Light, Coors Light, Grey Goose, Hennessey, Jack Daniel’s, Mike’s Hard Lemonade, Patron and Smirnoff. They analyzed 137 videos published between 2006 and 2013 looking at factors like production quality, actors’ traits such as sex and race/ethnicity, as well as positive and negative associations with alcohol use.

They found that videos averaged about two minutes in length and had about 116,000 views each, totaling nearly 97 million views for all 137 videos. About 60 percent were classified as having professional production quality. Some 40 percent of videos were considered traditional advertising and other common categories were music videos or concerts, as well as “chugging” videos.

“We didn’t expect the biggest category to be traditional ads, which means this is a method that marketers are using to reach youth,” Primack said. “They’re getting a lot of bang for their buck, especially when people repost these videos online.”

The video types and messages tended to vary by brand, too. For example, 83 percent of those that featured Bud Light were traditional ads, as compared to 18 percent of the Grey Goose videos and none of the Patron videos.

Related to positive associations with alcohol use, more than 80 percent of Bud Light and Coors Light videos featured humor. Similarly, all of the Patron-related videos but none of the Bud Light-related videos portrayed intoxication. Only Grey Goose and Jack Daniel’s videos had references to addiction or dependence. Most negativity was seen in music videos, which tended to portray heavy drinking and a “gritty” lifestyle, the study found.

Most videos weren’t uploaded by the companies themselves, but rather were derived from concerts, parties and music videos sponsored by the companies or individuals who uploaded and tagged a video as “humor.”

“What online alcohol promotion has resulted in is social media users becoming unsolicited brand ambassadors for alcohol companies,” said Adam Barry of Texas A&M University in College Station, Texas, who wasn’t involved in the study, in an email.

“Even if they don’t go looking for these messages, alcohol promotional materials will come right to the computer in their pocket when someone else tags, likes, or shares it, and when an update dings, they’ll view it,” said Barry, whose own research has found that youth often have easy access to alcohol promotions on YouTube, Twitter and Instagram.

YouTube added an Age Gate in 2012 to block inappropriate content from underage users, but some links are still accessible. Primack says he and colleagues aren’t suggesting that teens can be prevented from viewing these videos or that parents should solely focus on limiting exposure.

“That’s not feasible,” he said. “What would be useful is supporting more media literacy and encouraging young people to analyze what they see.”

Future studies could look at the specific messages being portrayed in the YouTube videos that play on themes such as rebelliousness, impulsivity and experiences that go against authorities such as parents and teachers, he noted.

“What we can discuss with kids is how that isn’t the reality,” Primack said. “Instead, the forces trying to manipulate them are the alcohol industry. The brands are trying to attract new drinkers.”

SOURCE: Journal of Studies on Alcohol and Drugs, online September 21, 2017.

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