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Alcohol Marketing on Twitter and Instagram: Evidence of Directly Advertising to Youth/Adolescents

Adam E. Barry, Austin M. Bates, Olufunto Olusanya, Cystal E. Vinal, Emily Martin, Janiene E. Peoples, Zachary A. Jackson, Shanaisa A. Billinger, Aishatu Yusuf, Daunte A. Cauley, Javier R. Montano
DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.1093/alcalc/agv128 agv128 First published online: 22 November 2015


Aims Assess whether alcohol companies restrict youth/adolescent access, interaction, and exposure to their marketing on Twitter and Instagram.

Methods Employed five fictitious male and female Twitter (n = 10) and Instagram (n = 10) user profiles aged 13, 15, 17, 19 and/or 21. Using cellular smartphones, we determined whether profiles could (a) interact with advertising content—e.g. retweet, view video or picture content, comment, share URL; and/or (b) follow and directly receive advertising material updates from the official Instagram and Twitter pages of 22 alcohol brands for 30 days.

Results All user profiles could fully access, view, and interact with alcohol industry content posted on Instagram and Twitter. Twitter's age-gate, which restricts access for those under 21, successfully prevented underage profiles from following and subsequently receiving promotional material/updates. The two 21+ profiles collectively received 1836 alcohol-related tweets within 30 days. All Instagram profiles, however, were able to follow all alcohol brand pages and received an average of 362 advertisements within 30 days. The quantity of promotional updates increased throughout the week, reaching their peak on Thursday and Friday. Representatives/controllers of alcohol brand Instagram pages would respond directly to our underage user's comments.

Conclusion The alcohol industry is in violation of their proposed self-regulation guidelines for digital marketing communications on Instagram. While Twitter's age-gate effectively blocked direct to phone updates, unhindered access to post was possible. Everyday our fictitious profiles, even those as young as 13, were bombarded with alcohol industry messages and promotional material directly to their smartphones.

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