Diageo-Facebook Deal to Target Hundreds of Millions of Underage Youth with Exploitive Alcohol Ads

Changes Demanded; Federal Intervention Required

Alcohol industry watchdog Alcohol Justice (formerly Marin Institute) took direct aim today at Diageo and Facebook’s egregious new youth-oriented alcohol marketing partnership, the first of its kind in social networking history.  

“A new low point in Big Alcohol self-regulation has been reached,” stated Sarah Mart, Director of Research at Alcohol Justice. “First, alcopop and spirits giant Diageo announced a multimillion dollar advertising deal with Facebook to pump up sales with youth-attractive content to promote alcohol brands such as Smirnoff. Next, DISCUS, the D.C.-based front group for huge spirits corporations, trumpets their new ‘guidelines’ for alcohol ads on social networking sites; continuing its charade, as meaningless as the industry’s ‘Drink Responsibly’ campaigns.”

The industry-drafted digital marketing guidelines take effect on September 30, 2011, in the U.S. and Europe. They stake the alcohol industry’s claim to branded alcohol promotion on websites, social networking sites, blogs, mobile communications, and in applications. While they advise alcohol marketers to restrict such messages to venues where at least 71.6 percent of the user audience is the legal drinking age or older, age-restricting mechanisms to insure compliance are essentially ineffective.

Nearly two years ago to the day, Alcohol Justice (then Marin Institute) sounded an alarm with an article in the Journal of Global Drug Policy and Practice, exposing the excessive amounts of alcohol marketing and other content to promote alcohol brands and dangerous drinking on Facebook. The site now boasts over 800 million active users worldwide, with one-third of users estimated to be under the legal drinking age.

Research has shown that alcohol is the third leading cause of preventable death and the most widely used drug among youth in the United States. Incessant promotion of alcohol on social networking and social media sites is driving double-digit sales growth: Diageo reports its brands in the U.S. have enjoyed a 20% increase in sales as a result of Facebook activity.

Alcohol Justice recommends immediate action by the Federal Trade Commission:

  • Stop all paid alcohol ads on social media platforms such as Facebook and YouTube
  • Stop free alcohol-related content on social media platforms
  • Establish an independent, external, third-party review body that includes public interest representation
  • Monitor the alcohol industry’s presence in social media and enforce regulations, and apply penalties for violations.


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