Alcohol and tobacco brands face a possible crackdown on developing Websites, amid claims from a US consumer group that some are deliberately and illegally targeting youth markets.
A report issued this month by the Washington-based Center for Media Education claims promotions by tobacco and alcohol drinks companies attracting young Net readers may be illegal and has called on US federal authorities to take action.
According to the report: “Alcohol and tobacco companies are using the online media to advertise and promote their products through a variety of marketing techniques that capitalise on the medium’s strong attraction for young people.”
According to Kathryn Montgomery, president of the CME, 24 out of 35 sites which promote major liquor or beer brands are “youth oriented”, although the conclusions of the CME report have been challenged by the Beer Institute and US spirit manufacturers lobby Discus.
Montgomery concedes that the survey found no evidence of irresponsible marketing by wine brands on the Net.
She claims the use of cartoon-style characters in interactive games on some sites is likely to appeal to surfers under the 21-year-old age limit for drinking in the US, and in breach of the industry’s own codes in advertising.
Budweiser’s KBUD online radio station, and interactive games featuring brand characters such as Molson Breweries’ “Berserk in Banff” and Jose Cuervo tequila’s “J.C. Roadhog Adventure”, are among Web content which CME claims wrongly appeals to an underage audience.
The pressure group has called for the Federal Trade Commission to investigate and act against “unfair and deceptive advertising” which targets underage drinkers.
It has also called for the enforcement of an outright ban on tobacco advertising on the Web, following the launch of a San Francisco online listings magazine Circuit Breaker, promoted by poster advertising for the Lucky Strike cigarette brand.
BAT subsidiary Brown & Williamson, which markets Lucky Strike, is now acknowledged as the e-zine’s sponsor, but the firm insists it has remained within the 1971 Cigarette Act – which banned ads in all electronic media – by not including Lucky Strike branding on the site.
UK marketers involved in online promotion of drinks brands have defended the responsible approach of British drinks companies to marketing on the Net.
A spokeswoman for Glenmorangie, one of a number of Scotch whisky firms with heritage-themed sites on the Web, insisted the content of its site was clearly aimed at a more mature audience.