Booze brand websites slammed for sucking in underage drinkers

The websites of alcohol brands are more powerful at engaging underage drinkers than TV or print ads, and industry self-regulation is failing to stop young people from being drawn in by booze marketing online, an academic has said.

Professor Sandra Jones, director of the University of Wollongong’s Centre for Health Initiatives, said that because people tend to spend longer interacting with booze content online than they do with TV or print ads, they are more likely to develop an affinity with alcohol brands.

This means they could start drinking at an earlier age, and drink in greater volumes, she said.

“Look at TV and magazine advertising – for a long time there has been evidence to suggest that young people found advertising content engaging, and that led to high incidences of underage drinking,” she told Mumbrella.

“It’s not a huge leap of faith to suggest that the more kids engage with alcohol content online, the more they will drink later in life.”

Professor Jones has just completed a study of 25 alcohol brand websites.

She said that Midori, Baileys and Bacardi stood out for targeting female drinkers, while Bundaberg – with the famous Bundy Bear – was particularly appealing to young men and boys.

Games, downloadable music, sport and sexual content are commonly used by alcohol brands online, but Professor Jones said that links with social media were the most effective for engaging underaged drinkers.

“Uploading pictures of you and your friends drinking, sharing that content, and the ability to ‘like’ a brand so it becomes your friend, are powerful ways alcohol brands are connecting with young people,” she said.

“I am not saying that alcohol brands are deliberating targeting teens. The problem is that their messaging is very appealing to young people – and it’s too easy to access,” she said.

Every one of the sites studied failed to effectively block under 18s from accessing alcohol marketing content, she said.

“Only half of the 25 sites we looked at had any barrier in place – usually an age verification page that was easy to bypass,” she said.

Professor Jones was speaking at the 2012 Conference of the Australasian Professional Society on Alcohol and other Drugs in Melbourne today.

Other than those already mentioned, the websites in the study included:


  1. Rhys L
    20 Nov 12
    3:53 pm

  2. Please someone, suggest a good way of verifying someone’s age short of asking for credit card details (of which, can be “borrowed” anyway).

  3. Dude
    20 Nov 12
    5:29 pm

  4. What Rhys said.

    And some of the websites “researched” are just product listings. Hardly appealing to any consumers, let along teenagers.

  5. Dude
    20 Nov 12
    5:33 pm

  6. Also, “Only half of the 25 sites we looked at had any barrier in place” is a lie.

    Every single consumer facing site listed has an age gate.

  7. What Khan Wee Doo
    20 Nov 12
    7:34 pm

  8. This is a hard one. Age gates are unlockable gates and when youths want to open a gate, that isn’t locked, they will open it.

    Youth’s will happily pop in a date of birth that is not theirs to access content on a website. Teenagers pre 18 are full of discovery and love breaking the rules (many do.)

    SO, how can we prevent these underagers from accessing the content on the websites concerned? Regulate alcohol companies to dumb down the contact on sites, so it is simply factual and non promotional..?

    This is hard to get right. I can understand the fact that alcohol companies of course will want to tempt the youngsters (the earlier they love their brand the better.)


  9. What Khan Wee Doo
    20 Nov 12
    7:35 pm

  10. “content” not contact.

  11. Sandra
    20 Nov 12
    8:01 pm

  12. Of the 25 (as at the time of testing):
    – 3 had no entry page
    – 7 asked you to click on ‘yes, I am over 18’ (or ‘no I am not’)
    – 2 asked for date of birth, but allowed access regardless
    – 13 asked for date of birth and denied entry if < 18
    NONE had any means of preventing users from trying again

  13. Richard Moss
    20 Nov 12
    8:19 pm

  14. Whine.. whine… wine, wine… winging, wine gin, boos… booze.

    It is so easy and convenient to blame commerce and advertising.

    The problem has been manufactured slowly over the years. Back in the horror days of the Vietnam war, the smarty pants, know it all, open minded lot claimed that it was awful that we send 18 year old lads to war, when they can’t vote or even order a beer. The age was lowered from 21 to 18.

    In the US and in our near neighbour NZ, teenage people were getting their drivers licence at 15 years of age, 14 in the US if you could prove Family hardship.

    Now we have a common goal for teens, turn 18, get a licence and start drinking alcohol at the same time.

    Every 15 year old should be eligible to sit the licence test (which should be much more rigid than it is) Drinking alcohol should be subject to a re education programme and made a much less vital part of our culture, and the age shot back to 21.

    Nobody should be going to war, but I guess it will take a huge re education programme to fix that one, the only significant change in that direction, is that we are now pressured to send young women as well; and some think that’s an advancement. No wonder they want to get drunk.

  15. Jamie
    20 Nov 12
    11:06 pm

  16. I don’t understand why booze brands are being slammed…

    If you don’t want your under 18 year old children to access these websites:

    1. Turn on the Parental Controls on your home computer, and/or (if this isn’t specific enough or blocking the right websites), simply add these websites to Windows settings manually. There are parental controls built-in to Windows 7, and come standard on almost all commercial anti-virus software.

    2. If your children have their own computer, configure your router to deny access to these websites – this can be done on almost all current routers, especially those from the telecommunications companies, but also as standard on most commercial routers (D-Link for instance, has Parental Control standard).

    This will also block access to these sites on your childs mobile device if they are using the WiFi.

    3. If you’re children are under 18, chances are their phone accounts are under your name, or at least will be recognised by the phone company as under 18. You will then have the ability to access Parental Control functions on their account, which can be, with some providers, a means to filter certain websites.

    If you are too ignorant to know how to do any of these steps, it is not the fault of the alcohol company if your child enters a false birthdate to circumnavigate their attempts at doing your job for you.

    To others, this is the internet – the home of false identity. There is no efficient way to validate a users age, short of validating a credit card (which lets face it if a kid *really* wants to access a website will grab the family card anyway, while at the same time turn off every adult who doesn’t want to send that information over the internet for the sake of visiting a beer website).

    I even once saw a US website requiring you to enter a social security number to access the content, but that is a breeding ground for information theft, ethical debate and huge security problems – not to mention Australians don’t have a similiar identification.

    People need to stop passing responsibility and blame on to others when the solution to the problem is so clearly in their hands.

  17. What Khan Wee Doo
    21 Nov 12
    8:45 am

  18. @ Jamie

    So blame the parents for the booze brands who purposely target underage drinkers?

  19. Dude
    21 Nov 12
    9:22 am

  20. Classic academic response with no ‘real life’ consideration. Sandra, how on earth do you propose implementing a “means of preventing users from trying again”.

  21. AdGrunt
    21 Nov 12
    11:47 am

  22. I’m with Jamie. More lazy non-research.

    Identifying an unquantified and unqualified issue on the one hand, with no practical suggestion or remedy on the other. Dr Jones actually states “I am not saying that alcohol brands are deliberating targeting teens.” – so what is she saying?

    The interests of a 17 year old are not that cosmically different from an 18 year old, or indeed 25 year old. A desire to belong, have fun, socialise, gain a sense of idependence and purpose.

    As with other “vices” – it’s broadly down to parents bearing the responsibility for educating, equipping and supporting the child emotionally. Alcohol has been the social lubricant for centuries. Suddenly suggesting that booze company’s online presence is destroying the fabric of society is, quite frankly, absurd.

  23. Jamie
    21 Nov 12
    12:09 pm

  24. What brands are purposely targetting underage drinkers? I see no evidence of that pointed out in this article, and as AdGrunt noted, it is actually stated that they are “not saying that alcohol brands are deliberating targeting teens.”

    You cannot drink a website, you can not log on to a beer website to have a beer, or conduct in any activity that would actually consitute the user being over 18. It is a courtesy, a formality, that an under 18 user not be exposed to ideas expressed on these websites.

    If a parent doesn’t want their under 18 to have access to these websites, I listed 3 ways that will GUARANTEE that they cannot access these websites. Your psuedo-name “What Khan Wee Doo” — those three things are EXACTLY what you can do.

    There are no such age-gates for watching sport, when you are blasted by gambling advertising – but try and access one of their websites, and you will find they have quite extensive age-verification methods (usually requiring a photo-copy of a licence or such). You can actually undertake activities requiring you to be 18 from a gambling website, again, you can’t drink a beer from a website.

    So really, it comes down to individual parenting decisions on what information you want your under 18 to have access to. If you don’t want your child to have access to a beer website, I provided 3, extremely simple, easy to research and understand methods that are far more effective than any age-gate or likewise efficient means of age verification.

    In this situation (not all), the ball is in the parents court.

  25. Bob
    21 Nov 12
    2:03 pm

  26. Sandra, how exactly do you propose an age verification process? Most of the reliable methods (credit card details, passport/license details, adult site ID, etc) are way too much work just to visit a website (not to mention dangerous!), and the easy methods (date of birth) are not reliable.

  27. Clint
    21 Nov 12
    3:36 pm

  28. I wish I could log into a beer website to drink a beer right now!

  29. Elwood
    21 Nov 12
    3:54 pm

  30. Well said Jamie, I couldn’t agree more. Sandra, any chance you could answer Dude’s and Bob’s questions? Thanks.

  31. She's right you know
    21 Nov 12
    6:43 pm

  32. I’m with Sandra – a lone voice against the tide of marketing dollars and fearful opinions such as the naysayers above… Look at the Bigger Picture lads: we have a problem. A huge one. A national one. A youthful one. Help her, don’t bash her. The psychological antidotal message IMHO is this: DRINKING IS NOT A SPORT

    Sandra, I’ll call you soon.

  33. That's what she said...
    21 Nov 12
    7:50 pm

  34. The internet didn’t exist when I was a teenager. And instead of being safe at home looking up booze sites and their facebook pages, I was out drinking myself stupid.

    I think humanity is the problem, booze companies are just trying to provide a solution like everyone else.

  35. Jamie
    22 Nov 12
    12:34 pm

  36. I don’t drink alcohol, never have, not likely ever to – I dislike and disagree with the culture of alcohol in our country, especially in the advertising industry. But this is not about glorifying or indemnifying alcohol companies because they sell beer.

    It’s about the ever-growing trend to shift more and more responsibility on advertisers, for issues easily managed by parents.

    This article, specifically, is arguing that tactics such as using social media, internet advertising and websites are driving young people to drink more often – unless I’m mis-interpreting.

    It is then suggesting that alcohol companies aren’t doing enough to protect children from this information, because current age-gate technology is not adequate.

    So effectively, this is an argument that information is being made too easily available for persons under 18 – and the author is arguing this is the fault of the advertisers/beer companies.

    So — how about we look at the bigger picture; there is information *you* disagree should be available to under 18s, the beer companies are doing what they can – in terms of relative efficiency (it is not efficient to validate a credit card to access a beer website) – to make inaccessible, but when it is suggested that some of the responsibility fall on the parents of such teenagers, it is somehow a voice of “marketing dollars and fearful opinions”?

    Teenagers can’t buy beer, it is illegal – however, there is nothing illegal about accessing the content of an alcohol website – if you have a problem with that information being accessed by your teenager, *you* do something about it.

  37. Nic Halley
    22 Nov 12
    5:58 pm

  38. Amazes me that people don’t see there’s a problem here