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New American report: Alcohol Companies Use New Media to Lure Young Drinkers

The alcohol industry uses the whole menu of new social media to reach new drinkers and to promote their brands. Sophisticated marketing techniques are being used, concludes a new report just launched in the US.

The report starts by describing how Heineken developed a new marketing concept in order to reach young people in Puerto Rico. The company’s marketing strategists realized that 30-second TV spots or other traditional media would not be effective in reaching Puerto Rican youth. Instead, they decided to benefit from the new social media and young people’s 24/7 access to these media as a tool to promote Heineken beer.

Says the report, “The company, together with their ad firm JWT, seized upon the architecture of the online world to build a powerful, interactive “virtual universe” named Heineken City”. In this cyber world youth are invited to acquire their own residence. This can be done not by spending cash, but by using your attention, time and engagement with the Heineken brand. “The size of one’s apartment, as well as the online storage capacity for personal use, depended on points—called “heikens”—earned by playing Heineken branded games on the site or on Facebook”, says the report, which is full of such examples of liquor and beer brands using social media to reach young people in particular. This is in conflict with the code of ethics for many of the same companies, where they state that alcohol promotion shall not be aimed at young people.

Most of the examples of the report are taken from American or Western companies and from American settings. But knowing that these companies are highly multinational in character, it is very likely that methods used in a Western setting very rapidly also start popping up in developing countries.

“Young people are being exposed to a 24/7 digital marketing ecosystem that is transforming the nature of advertising," said Kathryn Montgomery, a professor of public communication at American University in Washington, D.C. and co-author of the report, titled Alcohol Marketing in the Digital Age. “Existing regulations may not be keeping up with the marketing trend”, the authors of the report warned when it was launched in May in a teleconference.

"Youth are at the center of an exploding digital culture," added Montgomery, according to an article about the launch conference in Bloomberg Businessweek. Said her co-author of the report, Jeff Chester, executive director of the Center for Digital Democracy, “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”, he said. "This is all about data collection for personalized, targeted marketing in order to better understand a user's attitude, their interests, their online behavior," Chester said. "Most of the data collection is covert. Users have no idea what's happening to the data."

Bloomberg Businessweek also reports: The new marketing approach involves a "360-degree strategy," Montgomery said, 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."

According to the report digital marketers are now “able to draw from an arsenal of powerful tools designed to tap deeply into one’s social relationships, and to encourage consumers to play a proactive role promoting the product (and even help create the advertising). Most important, and least well known or understood, is how marketers’ attention is now focused on collecting consumer data that can be used to target advertising more precisely than ever before”. 

View the article in Bloomsberg Businessweek here.  

Download the full report “Alcohol Marketing in the Digital age” here.