ONLINE social networking sites and interactive websites are “gold” to alcohol marketers in targeting young people, a conference has heard.
Marketing lecturer Pat Kenny said it was easy for underage children to gain access to alcohol websites and Facebook pages, where guidelines on advertising are not adhered to and where alcohol is explicitly associated with fun, games and sexuality. The Dublin Institute of Technology academic said the iPhone, also massively popular with young people, was now being targeted to promote drinking by beverage companies.
Mr Kenny was talking at a conference organised by Alcohol Action Ireland (AAI), attended by health professionals, youth workers and industry representatives.
AAI published details of a survey which showed that more than eight out of ten 16- to 17-year-olds had seen alcohol ads on Facebook pages. Nearly two-thirds said they saw such ads on the social networking site.
Three out of ten said they had been targeted by a pop-up ad for an alcohol product on their Facebook or Bebo page and that two out of ten had received an online quiz about alcohol or drinking.
AAI director Fiona Ryan said the findings raised “serious questions” about the level of control on alcohol advertising online and said alcohol marketers were “ahead of the game”.
Mr Kenny said the level of engagement involving online users was “gold for marketers”, with alcohol companies offering highly interactive websites, featuring games, videos of attractive promoters, free text services and a facility for users to upload photographs of them drinking. He said some alcohol sites offer “immersive environments”, in which users can play a virtual character in games, including, in a Budweiser promotion, a lingerie competition.
Mr Kenny said social networking sites were booming and that “a couple hundred thousand” new members had joined them in Ireland in the last four months.
He said the 13- to 15-year-old age group was the single biggest category in the growth. He said four out of the top ten Irish Facebook pages were for alcohol brands. He said the Guinness page had 156,000 fans.
Mr Kenny said the industry codes should be extended online and called for games and user material to be removed. He also called for an independent age verification service on sites.
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