Use of New Media to Lure Young Drinkers: New Report
Alcohol companies have become extremely savvy at targeting young audiences, companies are increasingly using the latest new media technologies (including cell phones, social networking sites, YouTube and other features of the expanding digital universe) to reach young drinkers, a new report contends.
That's exactly what Heineken did in 2007 when the company created an online virtual city with luxury real estate that users could only pay for with time and attention to the brand instead of cash. “Qualified buyers” could receive welcome kits and keys to their new posh homes in the mail.
While marketing to kids is nothing new, unlike with more traditional forms of advertising like print and broadcast, new media marketing is always on. Youth can now interact with beer and liquor brands 24/7 -- often without parents even knowing it. This, combined with an already high underage drinking rate is a recipe for trouble.
“Virtual worlds show all of the appeal and none of the consequences of alcohol use and undercut efforts to reduce the incidence of underage drinking. At this point, alcohol companies appear limited only by their imaginations and pocketbooks" David Jernigan, associate professor at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, noted.
One area the study authors want policy makers to look at is weak age-verification mechanisms, pointing out how easy it is for a young person to enter a false birth date so they are legally "of age" to enter a Web site.
Alcoholic beverage and other companies are now developing "advertising experiences", as opposed to the staid 30-second television spots of yesteryear and while young consumers are being enticed by attractive, entertaining, new marketing experiences, the alcohol companies are collecting data for future sales and product development purposes.
"This is all about data collection for personalized, targeted marketing in order to better understand a user's attitude, their interests, their online behavior," said Jeff Chester, executive director of the Center for Digital Democracy and co-author of the report. "Most of the data collection is covert. Users have no idea what's happening to the data."
As Kathryn Montgomery, a professor of public communication at American University in Washington, D.C and co-author of the report stated “the new approach involves a 360-degree strategy, meaning a multiplicity of platforms throughout the day and night that includes online, offline, mobile, digital, music, video -- a whole range of different ways that consumers interact with new digital marketing."
"On a single site, through a variety of applications, whether offering users free e-mail, access to music downloads, online videos or other applications, a wide array of techniques are deployed to ensure that the brand message is fully absorbed by the consumer," Chester said.
There are several major distribution platforms, the report authors stated, the first being social networking sites such as Facebook, where not only can companies promote their own brands, but they can enjoin consumers to promote their brands, too.
"There's a whole stealth world of marketing that occurs in social media spaces," Chester said. "It's a completely Wild West environment."
Video-sharing services such as YouTube have also become popular with alcohol marketers and consumers alike, according to the report.
A Smirnoff video promoting its alcoholic ice tea went "viral" and had 600,000 hits in just 10 days, Chester said. As of last fall, 5 million people had viewed it, Chester said.
Also popular with alcohol marketers are small mobile devices such as cell phones, which are always with you and where people can track your every move.
Taken together, these tools create a "rich media environment" where "people can be in the experience like they've never been before," Montgomery said.