There is a perception shared by some that minors see many alcohol ads. The story that isn't being told, however, is that the industry has made big efforts in recent years to significantly reduce minors’ exposure to alcohol ads. WFA Policy Manager Julia Quintella explains.
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There is a perception in some quarters that minors see a lot of alcohol ads. Recently, a WHO-UNICEF-Lancet report went so far as to even place marketing on par with climate change as a threat to minors. Earlier this year, a Wall street Journal article criticized alcohol brands’ use of social media, suggesting that minors are exposed to alcohol marketing due to poor age controls online.
The story that isn't being told, however, is that the industry has made big efforts in recent years to significantly reduce minors’ exposure to alcohol ads. The Advertising Standards Authority in the UK reports that alcohol ads make up just 0.8% of the number of all TV ads seen by children each week. Online, less than 0.1% of all ads viewed by children and adults are for alcohol products. These figures show that there is a gap between perception and the reality.
In Europe, the seven biggest alcohol beverage producers – AB InBev, Bacardi, Brown-Forman, Carlsberg, Diageo, Heineken, and Pernod Ricard – have signed up to WFA’s Responsible Marketing Pact, a commitment which establishes guidelines on where alcohol ads can be placed, the content of ads (i.e. creative execution) and sets new standards and controls for social media. The goal is to reduce minors’ exposure to alcohol marketing, limit the appeal of alcohol marketing to minors and strive to ensure minors’ social media experience is free from alcohol ads.
The world’s 12 leading alcohol producers have committed to the Digital Guiding Principles. As part of this commitment, signatories must ensure their branded social media pages, websites and apps can only be accessed by users over the legal purchase age (age-gating), make sure users are aware of the commercial nature of their content, remind users not to forward alcohol-related content to those under the legal purchase age (a “forward advice notice”), alert users that any posts that condone irresponsible or excessive consumption will be removed, and include a responsibility message, such as “Don’t drink and drive”.
Findings from the relevant monitoring bodies, led by the European Advertising Standards Alliance (EASA), found that from 2018 to 2019 there was a significant increase in the number of social media profiles, websites and apps which had the appropriate safeguards, from 67% to 81%. While there is still room for improvement, these statistics show that the industry is making an effort to reduce minors’ interaction with alcohol content online.
Rolling out these commitments internally is no easy feat. Large alcohol producers are often decentralized, and companies must ensure all their brands in every different market are aware of their commitments. Additionally, several brands work with external marketing agencies, and these must also be briefed. High turnover rates within agencies and marketing teams means these commitments must be explained and re-explained several times. Another hurdle is the practical implementation of commitments. Implementing safeguards to prevent minors interacting with alcohol-branded content on social media is not always intuitive and can be a confusing and time-consuming process.
The WFA and the International Alliance for Responsible Drinking (IARD) have produced how-to video guides to help marketers put safeguards in place on YouTube, Facebook, Instagram and Snapchat. We hope these videos will also inspire alcohol brands who are not signed up to our commitments to do the right thing and follow suit.
Commitments such as the Responsible Marketing Pact and the Digital Guiding Principles serve to complement existing legislation to ensure that alcohol marketing is carried out in an ethical manner. No one wants minors to be exposed to alcohol marketing and alcohol producers will continue to reinforce efforts towards reducing this exposure.