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: