United Kingdom-based multinational alcoholic beverages giant Diageo has suspended all global advertising on image messaging platform Snapchat after a sponsored lens was criticized for appealing to under-18 users. The decision was taken by Diageo after the Advertising Standards Authority (ASA), UK’s advertising regulator, ruled in early January 2018 that a Snapchat ad for the company’s rum brand, Captain Morgan, be banned.
The investigation by the ASA focused on two main issues – whether the ad was of particular appeal to users below 18 years (the legal drinking age in the UK), and if it was targeted at this age group. The Snapchat lens, first seen in June 2017, was deemed to be in violation of strict alcohol advertising rules due to the use of real or fictional characters which could induce children and adolescents to start drinking.
The ASA based its ruling on the assumption that a significant percentage of Snapchat users were below 18 years. Diageo insisted that it purchased the lens in 2017 based on relevant assurances given by Snapchat. During the investigation, Snapchat informed the ASA that it had the necessary data to validate users’ ages, and that it also used “audience lenses” to direct ads to particular audience groups. However, the ASA ruled that the Captain Morgan campaign used unverified age information provided by users.
Social media can influence alcohol-related behavior among youngsters
Past research from the Michigan State University (MSU) found that exposure to alcohol ads on social media increased the likelihood of study participants to think about drinking. The research raised questions about social media and its ability to influence alcohol-related behavior, particularly among underage users. Lead author Saleem E. Alhabash, an assistant professor of public relations and social media at the MSU’s department of advertising and public relations, said, “On social media, the line that distinguishes an ad from regular content is very fine.”
The personal news feeds of social media users is often interspersed with alcohol-related images, like drinking in a bar, without realizing its reach to underage users. These actions indirectly promote underage drinking or driving under the influence (DUI) of alcohol. Such issues are part of the larger problem of limited or non-existent regulation of alcohol advertising on social media. Even though Snapchat, Facebook and Instagram employ age-gating restrictions – regulating inappropriate content for underage users – Snapchat finds greater appeal among younger teens, making it a target of higher regulatory scrutiny.
The ASA ruling, which intends to set a precedent, will be of concern to alcohol, gambling and other brands with age-related advertising constraints, particularly since it is widely believed that younger users frequently evade age restrictions on social media. It also highlights the obligation of Snapchat and its social media peers to understand the “importance of responsible marketing, specifically in regards to appealing to children.”
Managing underage drinking in the age of social media
As brands increasingly transition to a “social first” strategy, there are likely to be more of such rulings in the future. It calls upon social media peers to ensure transparency and understand the importance of age verification controls and brand safety issues. This is even more important for platforms like Instagram which is believed to employ relatively lenient age-related controls.
Alcohol is the most commonly used and abused substance by the American youth. Although the legal drinking age in the U.S. is 21, it has been previously estimated that people aged between 12 and 20 years, drink 11 percent of all alcohol consumed in the U.S. In 2016, nearly 7.3 million youth aged 12-20 (19.3 percent of the age group) reported past-month alcohol use, including 4.5 million (12.1 percent) reporting binge alcohol use and 1.1 million (2.8 percent) reported heavy alcohol use. Underage drinking is associated with several negative consequences, including academic problems, socio-legal problems, physical/sexual assault, unintentional injuries and death from alcohol poisoning.
Teen alcohol use, even in moderate quantities, can have severe implications during adulthood. Therefore, it is necessary to prevent teens from misusing or abusing alcohol. Sovereign Health of Rancho San Diego offers effective solutions for teen alcohol abuse treatment. Call us at our 24/7 helpline or chat online with our trained representatives for the necessary information about teen alcohol rehab centers.