Alcopops: The Newest Way To Encourage Teen Drinking
Alcohol advertisers spend more than $2 billion annually marketing their products on television, radio, print, and in live events. Much of this reaches audiences significantly younger than the legal drinking age. This is so true that youth in the United States are 96 times more likely to see an advertisement for alcohol than they are to see an ad discouraging underage drinking. Even as consumption rates among underage drinkers continue to decline, there are still 61.2% of high school seniors drinking. A millennial malaise for previously popular American institutions, like restaurant dining and a drink after work, have led to decreases in revenue for those industries. In turn, alcohol brands have crafted new alcoholic beverages along with more pervasive marketing strategies to target today’s young people. The newest product of this next generation push is alcopops.
What Are Alcopops?
The term alcopop is a combination of alcohol and soda pop—though the actual beverage may not contain any soda. They were initially designed as a gateway drink for millennials who crave sugary-sweet, carbonated drinks and were reportedly turned off by the traditionally bitter, flat tastes of beer and wine. Alcopops are generally mixed, malt beverages with an alcohol content that can reach as high as 14% ABV.
“These new products constitute a unique danger to youth,” said Dr. Matthew Rossheim, an assistant professor of global and community health in Mason’s College of Health and Human Services. “Yet our findings clearly show that young people are not getting the message about how much they can be affected by them.”
Alcopop market share was not recorded until 2012, when brands like Four Loko exploded onto the market and gained infamy from a string of Four Loko-related adolescent deaths. During the same time, 36 new alcopop brands were created, equating to 35.6% of the new alcoholic beverages that year. Popular alcopop brands include Mike’s Hard beverages, Twisted Tea, Sparks, Seagram’s Escapes, Smirnoff, and the Bud Light Ritas.
Alcopops come in containers that may look like children’s juice drinks, such as the Texas brand Buzzballs. Buzzballs puts out flavors like “Strawberry Rum Job” and “Forbidden Apple” in a round, ball-shaped container that comes in various colors.
Alcopops are usually cheaper than other alcoholic offerings, and come in cans three to six times the size and ABV content of average beer cans (known as “supersized alcopops”). The Federal Trade Commission has stated that drinking one can of supersized alcopop “constitutes binge drinking and is therefore an unsafe practice.”
With brightly colored cans and fruity flavors, alcopops directly target young people. Alcohol advertising with animation and/or animal characters, popular music, and humor are popular methods alcohol brands use to catch the eye of potential, millennial drinkers. Brands also use movies and characters popular among the youth.
This year, Mike’s Hard Beverage company partnered with the Deadpool 2 movie, releasing 12 new cans featuring the popular Marvel Comics character. The company also hosted a sweepstakes to send drinkers to the movie premiere as well as the preeminent comic book convention in the country, San Diego Comic Con.
Brands have also been targeting underage drinkers hard on social media. Studies have shown that children as young as 13 have unrestricted access to alcohol ads and brand pages on social media platforms like Instagram and Twitter (where regulations and an “age gate” should have prevented such connections). According to one study, every additional dollar alcohol companies spend on advertising raises the number of drinks adolescents consume by 3%.
Companies have even found new ways of going around “age gate” systems designed to hide alcohol content from users under 21 on social media by partnering with influencers for branded content on the person’s Instagram, Facebook, Twitter, or YouTube pages. When kids subscribe to these influencer accounts, there is no system in place to filter what types of content that influencer can show to their audience. Ultimately, viewers under 21 are subjected to damaging advertisements masquerading as “fun content” from many brands.
Dangers Of Underage Drinking
Alcohol is still the leading cause of death among people under 21, resulting in over 4,300 deaths every year. Studies have repeatedly shown that curtailing exposure to alcohol and alcohol advertisements reduces underage drinking rates. Despite claims from the alcohol industry that it will voluntarily curb its marketing away from the youth, companies continue to do as they please. In one year, Smirnoff placed 1,300 advertisements on TV shows with disproportionate amounts of underage viewers.
The earlier an individual starts to drink, the more likely they are to develop an alcohol addiction. Those who start drinking before the age of 15 are four times as likely to become alcoholics, as opposed to those who wait until they’re 21. Drinkers of alcopops report drinking more throughout the day and drink more days in a month. They’re four times as likely to binge drink and six times as likely to suffer alcohol-related injuries that require medical attention.
“The most effective evidence-based methods of reducing alcopop-related harm among youth are to increase prices, decrease availability, and limit advertising.”
State governments must stand up to alcohol companies and demand changes in policies to protect their state’s youth. Parents must also do their part and remain involved in their kids’ lives, up-to-date on their children’s interests and hobbies, and be active role models.
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