Do YouTube Videos Promote Booze Brands To Underage Viewers?

By Bryan Le 10/02/17

Unofficial uploads of videos featuring the most popular alcohol brands may be delivering branding right to the most susceptible minds.

Image: 
YouTubers in a chugging challenge video drinking tequila Patron.
YouTubers in a chugging challenge video drinking tequila Patrón. via TheBoogShow/YouTube

Millions of underaged YouTube viewers flock to videos that feature the most popular and well-known alcohol brands among their age group, and researchers say it could lead to more underage drinking.

According to a study published in the Journal of Studies on Alcohol and Drugs, these videos are virtually advertisements that could provoke youths to seek out the brands featured in the videos. The videos most often show drinking alcohol as fun, glamorous and entertaining.

YouTube features a wide variety of videos, including concert footage, sketch comedy, video blogs, chugging challenges and actual advertisements. The brands that show up tend to be the ones already floating in the cultural zeitgeist, including Bud Light, Grey Goose, Hennessy, Patrón, Jack Daniel’s and Smirnoff.

“YouTube has become one of the largest video-sharing platforms but often goes under the radar in studies,” said Dr. Brian Primack, lead author of the study at University of Pittsburgh in Pennsylvania to Reuters Health. “Brands are extremely important when it comes to youth and alcohol consumption. Sometimes the key transition occurs when a young person is more susceptible to branding.”

While YouTube has enacted programs to restrict videos by age and content, inevitably some of the videos uploaded by the site’s millions of users don’t get flagged properly.

The study reviewed a sample of 137 videos, taking notes of the production value, actors’ sex and race, and how alcohol was portrayed in the video. Researchers found that the videos averaged around two minutes with 116,000 views. The total view count of all 137 videos was almost 97 million. Among the types of videos, one stood out as the most popular: the ads themselves made up 40% of the reviewed video samples.

“We didn’t expect the biggest category to be traditional ads, which means this is a method that marketers are using to reach youth,” Primack said. “They’re getting a lot of bang for their buck, especially when people repost these videos online.”

The videos were typically not uploaded by the companies themselves.

There were also differences in how each brand was portrayed. Over 80% of Bud Light or Coors Light videos were humorous. None of the Patrón videos were advertisements. Additionally, all of the Patrón videos portrayed some form of drunkenness, but none of the Bud Light videos did.

While the sheer amount of easily accessible alcohol-related videos on YouTube may seem problematic, compulsively watching YouTube might be an addiction in itself.

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Bryan Le grew up in the 90's, so the Internet is practically his third parent. This combined with a love for journalism led him to The Fix. When he isn't fulfilling his duties as Editorial Coordinator, he's obsessing over fancy keyboards he can't justify buying. Find Bryan on LinkedIn or Twitter

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