The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) demands that alcohol companies provide information about how their product is marketed. The alcohol industry sets its own voluntary guidelines, so the FTC conducts periodic reviews of the industry’s voluntary compliance with its self-imposed policies. Their fourth study since 1999 looked at information collected from 14 leading companies who produce 1,679 labels of beers and spirits. All told, those companies shelled out $3.45 billion in 2011 to promote their products.
How Alcohol Advertising Has Changed
Back in 2003 the alcohol industry set advertising parameters a bit differently. Then companies had to prove that at least 50 percent of the viewing audience was at least 21 years old. Today the industry sets the bar a bit higher, requiring that prospective audiences be at least 70 percent legal drinking age. And where alcohol companies advertise is also starting to shift.
The lion’s share of marketing, 93.1 percent, takes place through measured media outlets like radio, television and magazine ads. But expenditures on Internet-based advertising are growing. Spending on digital marketing has quadrupled since 2008. About two percent of digital advertising dollars were spent on social media companies like Facebook, Twitter and YouTube. More than double that amount, five percent, was given to sites not owned directly by an alcohol company. Less than one percent was devoted to mobile, app or email marketing.
The FTC concluded that companies are doing a fair job of protecting underage viewers from exposure to alcohol advertising. They did, however, conclude that alcohol companies could do a better job utilizing age-gate technology on social media. Age-gating requires visitors to do more than assert they are age 21 or older. In addition to tightening digital entry points, the FTC found fault with privacy policies and oversight of content created by site visitors and social media users.
Since younger audiences are largely reached through digital devices advertising dollars will likely continue to migrate in that direction. However, the industry will need to develop greater safeguards for viewers if underage youth are to be shielded from the allure of youth-oriented marketing campaigns.