Watchdog to police alcohol ads on social media

Advertising regulators are planning to take action to prevent children being exposed to alcohol marketing on social media.

The Advertising Standards Authority said it was responding to concerns about age-gating on websites and ease of access to accounts on services such as Twitter and Instagram.

Shahriar Coupal, director of advertising policy and practice at the ASA, told a Westminster Social Policy Forum: “We’ll very shortly be introducing measures that will better limit children’s exposure to alcohol ads on social media.”

Coupal revealed that the ASA had received only around 10 complaints per year about social media campaigns for alcohol, but researchers say the higher use of some social media among young people makes them vulnerable to this content.

Eleanor Winpenny, analyst at market researcher RAND, said that time spent on the internet now surpassed that spent watching TV among 12-15-year-olds.

Seven out of 10 of that ge group have a social media profile or accounts, with Facebook, Instagram and Twitter the most popular. While Facebook blocks access to alcohol advertising for those who declare their age to be under 18, others, including Twitter and Youtube do not.

The issue has come into the spotlight this month after Diageo’s Ciroc vodka announced that it would be the first alcohol brand to run paid for advertising on Instagram.

Smirnoff and Stella Artois have both used Instagram campaigns and Heineken has publicised music festival content through Snapchat.

Winpanney said: “Social media is blurring the lines betweens user-generated content and brand marketing.

“There is a need for better regulation of children’s exposure to alcohol marketing online.”

The ASA received 236 complaints about 123 alcohol campaigns across all types of media in 2014, down from 445 notifications about 164 drinks campaigns in 2012. Approximately half related to TV ads and less than 10% to the internet, cinema or outdoor.

But Elaine Hindal, chief executive of Drinkaware, said digital media had a positive role to play in disseminating information about responsible consumption.

“It is an increasingly important way of engaging with consumers when they are on the bus or train on the way home form work,” she said. “There is a consumer appetite for information.”

Drinkaware carried out research among 49,000 users of its smartphone app

Hindal said that after four weeks, users were drinking an average of two to three units less alcohol per week, and after 12 weeks the average was 12 to 13 units. 

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