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Is mobile?s effect on alcohol marketing a threat to our youth?

Mobile is changing the alcohol marketers' goals from getting customers familiar with their brand to wanting them to engage with it and incorporate it into their daily lives.

Alcohol companies require consumers to provide their birth date ?via SMS or mobile Web, for example ? to prove they are legal drinking age. That means that kids just need to be good at math to interact with some of the marketing that alcohol brands are introducing.

?Alcohol beverage companies are using the latest in mobile targeting to push their products,? said Jeff Chester, executive director of the Center for Digital Democracy, Washington. ?They know young people ? underage consumers ? have deeply incorporated mobile media into their daily lives.  

?From iTunes apps, to Facebook, to online games, alcohol companies in the U.S.  threaten to dramatically compound the already public health crisis in underage drinking,? he said.

Cross-platform perfect storm
Today, alcohol brands (like other major advertisers) are promoting their products across a wide spectrum of new platforms?from social networks to mobile phones to immersive, virtual communities, according to a Center for Digital Democracy and Berkeley Media Studies Group study titled, ?Alcohol Marketing in the Digital Age.?

The report says that the marriage of communications and commerce is benefitting from a ?perfect storm? of converging developments. For example, the rise of Internet ? and mobile-savvy consumers is contributing.

The ability to access online content at any hour ? especially through mobile devices and digital marketing platforms such as Facebook, Google and YouTube ? is also contributing to this perfect storm.

The report highlights that the youth is at the center of the growing digital marketplace and that alcohol companies have an array of content that would likely appeal to these future drinkers.

Why brands are taking note
The introduction of the iPhone and the ability to add an array of mobile applications have significantly added to the arsenal of marketing techniques.

Mobile marketing will be a critically important venue in the years to come, and is already playing a role in targeted advertising.

With the proliferation of mobile devices among youth, and especially within multicultural groups, advertisers have aggressively seized on this new trend.

Mobile ad revenues are expected to read $3.1 billion by 2013, compared to $160 million in 2008, according to the report.

Both Black and Hispanic youth are at the forefront of using mobile services to access content and are considered an important target market by advertisers.

The report finds that advertising on mobile devices will be especially powerful, since it will be able to target users by combining both behavioral and location data.

Mobile advertising will increasingly rely on interactive video and become firmly embedded in ?mobile social networks.?

Alcohol brand mobile campaigns
Jim Beam has developed mobile Web sites for its various brands. It uses 2D bar code technology that allows mobile marketing campaigns to be triggered through print advertising via handset cameras.

The 2D bar codes can trigger an ad, coupon or other message sent to a mobile device or personal computer.

Malibu rum?s free iPhone game ?Get Your Island On? explains that you can ?Bowl in a rum shack. Bowl on the beach. Bowl in an underground cave or inside an aquarium.

Budweiser created an ?Ale Finder? that ?shows consumers the nearest pubs, bars and restaurants with Bud American Ale on tap, as well as the closest retail outlets where users can pick up a six-pack.

Absolut?s Drinkspiration GPS-enabled application for the iPhone is designed to ?help you order or recommend a cocktail to match the moment?s mood, weather, color, time, location, bar vibe and more.?

An interactive encyclopedia lets users hook-in to up-to-the-minute global drink trends, and then share
what they want via Twitter and Facebook.

Mobile on the rise
According to the report, by age ten, about half of children own a mobile phone. By age 12, fully three-fourths of all children have their own mobile phone.

The report highlights that mobile technologies give young people unprecedented freedom to develop entire lives beyond parental monitoring or control.

Many campaigns are designed to encourage users to provide personal data, such as mobile phone numbers, email addresses and personal preferences.

For example, Special Ops Media?working for Proximo?s 1800 Tequila?developed a site for the brand?s campaign and contest inviting artists and others to ?design? their own bottle.

When users upload their design, there are opportunities for the brand to collect contact information. The site had more than 10,000 bottle uploads in the first two months and 100,000 unique visitors.

The brand?s database contact list grew by 100 percent, according to the report.

The report also touches on the 360-degree strategy, which aims to reach viewers and users repeatedly, wherever they are across the media landscape, both online and off.

Marketers design their campaigns to take advantage of people?s constant connectivity to technology, their multi-tasking behaviors, and the fluidity of their media experiences.

The growth of residential broadband use, the emergence of the mobile Web and wireless networks, and services such as instant messaging and texting have created an ?always-on? media experience.

Major media companies are now offering cross-platform marketing opportunities, where, in a single buy, advertisers can target customers across a company?s media properties, online and off.

Mobile Web-enabled phones are fueling the dramatic growth of new services, including mobile video and mobile social networks, many of them advertising-based.

Alcohol companies have incorporated the 360 strategy into many of their campaigns.

For example, Smirnoff conducted a cross-digital and offline treasure hunt in Australia, part of ?The Smirnoff Secret Experience Party 2008? campaign.

In order to gain admission to what was billed as ?the biggest free party? in the country, one had to find tickets that had been placed ?in the real world across Australia.?

Clues were placed on an ?underground blog,? mobile sites, Facebook, YouTube, and other online locations; a ?GPS ticket tracker? was switched on periodically, with alerts sent out to help drive contestants? involvement with the campaign.

?We asked both the FTC and state AG's to investigate how alcohol marketers use mobile techniques knowing that youth are part of the distribution strategy,    such as promoting a campaign by tapping into its viral and peer to peer capabilities,? Mr. Chester said.

?We want policymakers to examine mobile data collection, to understand what privacy issues are involved,? he said. ?Mobile social networking and the promotion of marketing to friends that is tied to their location ? in order to encourage youth drinking, is another recommendation.?