Facebook Deal with Diageo Fuels Under-Age Drinking Fears

The-Guardian-logoDrinks giant's marketing tie-up on advertising pages raises concerns about health impact on teenagers

A multimillion-dollar deal agreed between Facebook and drinks company Diageo will fuel the under-age drinking epidemic by exposing increasing numbers of young people to alcohol marketing, health experts are warning.

Advertising to the predominantly young people who use Facebook has been hugely profitable for Diageo, which makes the drink of choice for most teenagers who can obtain it – Smirnoff vodka.

Announcing the deal, Diageo said Smirnoff had become "the number one beverage alcohol brand on Facebook worldwide". Its brands in the US had enjoyed a 20% increase in sales "as a result of Facebook activity". The deal will, said Diageo, "drive unprecedented levels of integration and joint business planning, and experimentation between the two companies".

Diageo said that more than 950 of its marketers had been trained in "Facebook boot camps" to build their social media capabilities and the company was recording "significant returns on investment" across a number of its brands.

But health experts and alcohol campaigners say the impact will be felt in teenage drinking. Dr Nick Sheron, a liver specialist at Southampton hospital, is one of those who believes the attraction of Facebook is the youth of its users, with half under the age of 24 and many under the legal drinking age of 18.

Facebook argues that pages set up by alcohol advertisers are "age-gated", and therefore only accessible to those who are over 18. But Sheron argues that many younger people do not disclose their true age on Facebook.

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