Groups press FTC to investigate alcohol marketers' online efforts

Interest groups are now calling on the Federal Trade Commission and state attorneys general to investigate alcohol companies that have taken their messages to popular social networks.

In a new report, released Tuesday, the Center for Digital Democracy and the Berkeley Media Studies Group stress those advertising campaigns are designed to appeal to underage youths who spend considerable time online.

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Ultimately, the groups do not point to a specific instance in which an alcohol company directly targets young consumers. But they do argue in their study that those companies have indirectly cornered that demographic by coupling their promotional efforts with Internet games, Web videos and other online communication tools — new media that are most appealing to younger audiences.

The two groups offer a litany of examples of companies like Heineken, Smirnoff, Malibu and others that have created iPhone apps, uploaded videos to YouTube or launched "social media monitoring" efforts to "better target consumers who use Facebook, Myspace and other social media sites."

The report ultimately concludes that self-regulation — especially the age-verification requirement on alcohol-related websites — is quickly becoming ineffective.

“The alcohol industry’s digital and social media marketing tactics are blurring the boundaries between advertising and content with unprecedented sophistication, said Jeff Chester, executive director for the Center for Digital Democracy. “The FTC and state attorneys general should launch an investigation into this new threat to young people online.”