May 19, 2010

Groups Ask For Online Alcohol Marketing Probe

A report issued by a digital watchdog and a public health group urged US authorities on Tuesday to probe the online marketing practices of alcoholic beverage companies and the impact they have on young people.

The 34-page report was issued to the Federal Trade Commission and state attorneys general by the Center for Digital Democracy (CDD) and the Berkeley Media Studies Group of the Public Health Institute.

CDD executive director Jeff Chester said the "alcohol industry's digital and social media marketing tactics are blurring the boundaries between advertising and content with unprecedented sophistication."

"The FTC and state attorneys general should launch an investigation into this new threat to young people online," Chester said in a statement.

The report pointed the finger at a number of interactive advertising campaigns by alcohol companies it said were being used in a way that appeal to youth. For example, a free iPhone game being offered by Malibu Rum and Smirnoff and Budweiser running promotions on YouTube to promote viral videos.

"Today's young people are living much of their lives online," said Kathryn Montgomery, a professor of communications at American University and a co-author of the report "ËœAlcohol Marketing in the Digital Age.'

"With concerns about binge drinking and other dangerous behaviors among underage youth, public health professionals and policy makers must investigate these aggressive new alcohol marketing practices on social networks, mobile phone and other digital media so popular with children and teens," she said.

The report noted that many alcohol companies and websites such as Facebook use age verification filters to try to keep out minors but said they were largely ineffective.

"Although social networks such as Facebook claim they are able to restrict alcohol ads from reaching under-age youth, their mechanisms for age verification are, at best, imprecise and faulty," the report said.


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